Across United Kingdom

05/16/2019 - 05/24/2019
by kuba10


DAY 1 - flight from Prague to London, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, King's Cross

DAY 2 - London - Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Making of Harry Potter - Warner Bros Studio Tour

DAY 3 - train from London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh - Princess Street Gardens, Ross Fountain, Victoria Street, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament

DAY 4 - Edinburgh - Dean Village, Circus Lane, Calton Hill, Dunbars Close Garden, St Giles' Cathedral, train from Edinburgh to Glasgow

DAY 5 - Glasgow - George Square, Glasgow Cathedral, The Glasgow Necropolis, Buchanan Street, train from Glasgow to Fort William

DAY 6 - hiking Ben Nevis

DAY 7 - the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig

DAY 8 - train from Fort William to Glasgow, Merchant City, Glasgow Green, People's Palace, modern quarter, Kelvingrove Park, University of Glasgow

DAY 9 - flight from Glasgow to Prague

DAY 1 - flight from Prague to London, Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, St. James's Park, Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, King's Cross

When we visited Scotland 2 years ago, we didn't think that we would have been back so soon. Our plan was to combine visit of London and Scotland. Perfect way is to use trains for that purpose, because it offers spectacular view of English countryside and Scottish Highlands. So in this case the journey is indeed the destination.

The cheapest way to get to London was flying with Ryanair to Stansted Airport. It required getting up at 3 a.m. which was brutal, but at least we arrived to London early and had all day for exploring. We used Easybus to get to King's Cross, where we had our accommodation. It is 2-hours ride. It is not the shortest way, but you have great opportunity to admire English architecture in the centre of London.

Our first stop after checking in was Covent Garden. It is place where market with fruits and vegetables was originally organized. Central Market Hall was built later following up the tradition of markets. Now it is place with many beautiful flower decorations and a lot of shops and restaurants. You can also admire Royal Opera House.

Our next destination was Westminster Abbey. The way led us via iconic Trafalgar Square. Then we turned to Whitehall - the centre of the Government of the United Kingdom and numerous departments and ministries including Horse Guards, where we were lucky to see changing of guards. There is also entrance to famous Downing Street that houses the official residences and offices of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. However the access to the street is restricted.

Unfortunately Big Ben is currently undergoing repairs, so we were deprived of this most recognised landmark. Major repairs to the clock tower are supposed to last until 2021.

Westminster Abbey is perhaps the most notable religious building in United Kingdom. It traditionally serves as the place of coronation, royal weddings and burial site of British monarchs. I can really recommend paying for tour and visit interior of this monumental building. It played key part in many important historical events. Also its gardens made big impression on us, especially the College Garden that is peaceful place perfect for having a short rest. Most visitors stay inside the building and visit only adjacent gardens, but it is definitely worth going to this remote part of abbey's complex.

It is not long walk from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. The best option is going through St. James's Park with its big lake and blooming flowers when you visit London in spring as we did. The most typical tree in London is the plane tree, which was blooming as well and its pollen is quite aggressive, so we were full of it after a while. You can find some kiosks in the park, so you can refresh yourself. The bridge in the middle of lake offers best view of park itself and Buckingham Palace as well.

We were slowly walking towards Victoria Memorial and Buckingham Palace - the residence and administrative headquarter of the monarch. We continued via Constitution Hill towards Wellington Arch until we reached the entrance to Hyde Park. We were getting tired after long day, so we found empty bench by the Serpentine Lake and gave our legs deserved break. We stopped by Princess Diana Memorial Fountain on the way back which was a little weird and we didn't like it much.

We even visited Piccadilly Circus on the way back to our hotel. Our last stop was King's Cross station, where we wanted to take a picture of entrance to 9 and 3/4 platform from Harry Potter, but there was a long queue of people having the same aim, so we decided to leave it for the Making of Harry Potter - Warner Bros Studio Tour that was our plan for next day.

DAY 2 - London - Tower of London, Tower Bridge, the Making of Harry Potter - Warner Bros Studio Tour

We had around 2 hours after breakfast before leaving for Warner Bros Studio Tour, so we decided to visit Tower Bridge. We got off underground at Tower Hill and we were walking around Tower of London towards Tower Bridge. We arrived just in time for first tour inside the bridge. The tour includes seeing both towers and bridges between them, you can also visit engine room. There is place with glass floor on the bridges between both towers, which is a little scary and not many people were brave enough to step on it. The views to both sides from top of the bridge are very nice.

The time for leaving the bridge has come and we have to get back to underground in order to get to Euston station. However we picked wrong line and got lost a little bit, but fortunately it was just short delay for us. Bigger complication appeared when we reached Euston station. We needed to use train to Watford Junction and then bus to studios. Unfortunately there was a big chaos at the station because of some trespassing incident and we were told that no trains were leaving the station. We were lucky that situation changed quickly and we were running across the station to catch our train for Watford Junction. It was big relieve for us that we made it. On Watford Junction we changed to bus and after while got off at Warner Bros Studio Tour. We made it right on time of our booked reservation.

It is hard to describe how amazing the tour is. It is nirvana for Harry Potter's fans. We spent around 4.5 hours inside studios. You start the tour at Great Hall, then walk through amazing sets used in Harry Potter movies like Forbidden Forest, Platform 9 3/4, Diagon Alley, Gringotts Wizarding Bank and many others. The tour ends with huge model of Hogwarts. You really feel like a part of this magical world for couple of hours.

DAY 3 - train from London to Edinburgh, Edinburgh - Princess Street Gardens, Ross Fountain, Victoria Street, Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace, the Scottish Parliament

It takes approximately 4.5 hours by train from King's Cross Station in London to Edinburgh Waverley. It is a scenic rail that takes you accross whole England and offers views of typical English countryside. You can see Durham Cathedral on the way and part of rail leads along coastline.

We started our Edinburgh's afternoon in Princes Street Gardens where you can find great panorama of Ross Fountain and Edinburgh Castle. We were walking around castle until we reached Grassmarket Square with market and first glimpse of colourful wood-carved shop windows that are so typical for Edinburgh. We continued to Victoria Street that was inspiration for J.K. Rowling's Diagon Alley. You can compare photos from Diagon Alley in Warner Bros Studios (above in article) and from Victoria Street in Edinburgh to see that they really have a lot in common. We continued our walk and finally reached Royal Mile - the main historical street of Edinburgh.

We were slowly approaching Edinburgh Castle while listening to sounds of bagpipes. We were even lucky to see changing of guards. The Esplanade (place in front of the castle) was still without stands, they were just starting the installation. The reason why they install stands is annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. It is series of military tattoos performed by British Armed Forces, Commonwealth and international military bands and it is held each August as part of the Edinburgh Festival.

When we got enough of the castle we were wandering down the Royal Mile stopping every now and then at some shop. We went pass St. Giles' Cathedral that was closing, so we had to postpone our visit for next day. We were slowly approaching controversial building of the Scottish Parliament, which estimated final cost was many times higher than initial estimates.

Holyrood Palace is completely different story. These buildings are almost neighbours, but Holyrood Palace represents traditional architecture. It is the official residence of British Monarch in Scotland. It has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century. There is charming Cafe at the Palace standing next to Holyrood Palace, but it was quit late, so they were closing as well. Instead we could admire Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat.

We were pretty hungry, so our last stop was bar called Biblos, where we enjoyed huge fish and chips, local beer and balls filled with haggis.

DAY 4 - Edinburgh - Dean Village, Circus Lane, Calton Hill, Dunbars Close Garden, St Giles' Cathedral, train from Edinburgh to Glasgow

After typical English breakfast we went to find Dean Village. The way took us right to Water of Leith and its peaceful walkway. It is very quiet place that is used almost only by locals for walks. You don't really feel like in the centre of Edinburgh. The walkway led us to charming quarter called Dean Village. The Dean Village is a tranquil oasis on the Water of Leith, only five minutes' walk from Princes Street. In the past the village housed mills of various kinds, and the remnants of the industry can still be seen today.

When you still walk by the river the path goes under Dean Bridge until you reach St George's Well. From there it is just short walk to Circus Lane. I recommend stopping for coffee and something sweet in perhaps the most beautiful café we encountered in Edinburgh that is called Stockbridge Kitchen. Circus Lane is pretty street that every photographer has to fall in love with. It is full of colourful flowers and amazing front doors as well.

Calton Hill is very popular especially thanks to its panoramic view of Edinburgh. You can enjoy views of centre of Edinburgh, Arthur's Seat or sea. You can look inside Old Observatory House or take a picture of National Monument of Scotland. After all that walking it was time to refill our energy supplies. The Cafe at the Palace seemed very tempting yesterday, but we didn't make it before closing, so this day we had plenty of time to enjoy this charming cafe. We ordered tea with milk and scone (British baked good) with marmalade.

After pleasant break we walked up the Royal Mile. We made a short visit of hidden Dunbars Close Gardens and continued towards St Giles Cathedral. It has distinctive crown steeple and it has been one of Edinburgh's religious focal points for approximately 900 years. It is dedicated to Saint Giles who is the patron saint of Edinburgh. We were lucky that Thistle Chapel inside the cathedral was opened. It is the chapel of The Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle. The order consists of the Scottish monarch and 16 knights. The chapel is small, but exquisite, with carved and painted fittings of amazing detail. Along the chapel's sides are the knights’ stalls.

Then we got back to the hotel, picked up our stuff and took a train to Glasgow. It was 1-hour long ride and we got off at the Central Station in Glasgow.

DAY 5 - Glasgow - George Square, Glasgow Cathedral, The Glasgow Necropolis, Buchanan Street, train from Glasgow to Fort William

Another day, another city. We had couple of hours for exploring Glasgow before departure of our train to Fort William. First stop on our walk around city centre was George Square, which is the main square of Glasgow with great concentration of statues and monuments. There are statues dedicated to James Watt or Sir Walter Scott. The most iconic building of George Square is Glasgow City Chambers.

We continued towards Glasgow Cathedral that is dedicated to patron saint of Glasgow - Saint Mungo. It is monumental building, but when I compare it to St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, we didn't feel very comfortable in this one. The Glasgow Necropolis is a Victorian cemetery that lies on hill to the east of cathedral. It offers nice view of Glasgow. Then we were walking on Cathedral Street until we reached Buchanan Street - the main shopping street of Glasgow. After exploring all souvenir shops it was time to move on. Our train from Glasgow Queen Street to Fort William was leaving soon.

The West Highland Line is one of the most scenic train route in the world. It runs from Glasgow to Fort William - the largest town of West Highlands. The line goes through amazing Highland scenery and it takes you to the places where no roads are heading. The first part runs along the shores of Gare Loch and Loch Long, then it moves to the shore of Loch Lomond. At the end of Loch Lomond you can see first hikers, as the line runs for a long time along West Highland Way - the most famous trail of Scotland. We were walking this trail 2 years ago, so it was great to see the path and places we knew again. We got off at Fort William after 3.5 hours of spectacular views.

DAY 6 - hiking Ben Nevis

When we finished West Highland Way 2 years ago, we didn't manage to continue our trail to the top of UK - Ben Nevis. So this was still unfinished story. The climbing itself is not technically difficult, but it is still approximately 1 300 metres of ascent and the same down. Ben Nevis is 1 344 metres high and you climb it almost from sea level. The weather is quite unstable and there are not many days without rain and wind in this area. As it turned out we picked one of those days. The weather was amazing when we were leaving our hotel, sun was shining and clouds were high enough to offer us view of surrounding mountains.

The trail starts at Ben Nevis Visitor Centre and it is known as "Pony track". When we climbed first vertical metres, the view of Glen Nevis opened up. Glen Nevis is long valley that serves as a base for many trails to surrounding mountains. It is also end of West Highland Way.

It didn't take us a long time until we reached the plateau that holds Loch Meall an t-Suidhe, known as the half way lochan. After another half kilometre the path crosses the cascading stream. Then it comes series of very wide zigzags. There was also a snow plateau we had to cross. Finally we reached the summit with the remains of the meteorological observatory which operated here early in the twentieth century. There is very dramatic view of the massive cliffs at the north side. It was also snowing a little bit when we were resting at the top. The descending was as usual a little hard for our feet, but it didn't take us long time to be back at the visitor centre. It took us around 8 hours there and back, but we spent a lot of time enjoying views at the summit.

When we got back to Fort William we celebrated our successful climb with local whisky Ben Nevis.

DAY 7 - the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig

Our next day plan was not as demanding as hiking Ben Nevis. We decided to continue with our Harry Potter theme, so we booked in advance the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and back. It takes you through impressive scenery and it really feels like Hogwarts Express, but sadly you won't end up in Hogwarts. The whole journey is amazing. First highlight comes when you cross Glenfinnan Viaduct which featured in Harry Potter's movies. There is a short stop at Glenfinnan Station, where you can stretch your legs at the sound of bagpipes. Next highlight is Loch Eilt with small islands with trees in the middle of lake. It was seen in Harry Potter's movies as well. The journey to Mallaig takes around 2 hours and it is full of amazing views.

We had around 2 hours in Mallaig before going back to Fort William. Mallaig is a port on the west coast of Highlands. It serves as a base for ferries going to adjacent islands like Skye, Eigg or Rum. The wind was blowing a lot as it usually does on this coast. We were walking around the bay to near viewpoints, where we could have seen gloomy scenery of isles of Rum, Eigg and Skye drowning in clouds.

When we got back to Fort William, we went for a last walk through the centre, because our stay in this outdoor centre of Scotland was about to end.

DAY 8 - train from Fort William to Glasgow, Merchant City, Glasgow Green, People's Palace, modern quarter, Kelvingrove Park, University of Glasgow

We had to get up quite early for our last breakfast in Fort William in order to catch morning service to Glasgow. It was the same train route as we used on the way to Fort William. This time the scenery was even more dramatic because of cloudy weather. Everything was dark and mysterious. There was a lot of trekkers on West Highland Way even though it still wasn’t high season.

We got off in Glasgow around noon and we took Buchanan Street to get to our hotel where we intended to leave our luggage. Our next walk around the city of Glasgow lead us to Merchant City. The Merchant City is one of Glasgow’s oldest quarters dating back to the 1750s when it was home to the warehouses of wealthy traders. In recent years the Merchant City has been promoted as a residential, shopping and leisure area, something like Covent Garden we visited in London.

Then we continued to Glasgow Green. It is quite big park with People’s Palace as its dominant. The People’s Palace is very nice from outside, but if you visit its exhibition inside you will probably regret it. It is very weird exhibition about city of Glasgow. The entrance was free, but it was still waste of time. So I wouldn’t go neither to Glasgow Green nor People’s palace again.

We were a little tired, but it was last day of our trip, so we mobilized our energy and went to see quarter with modern architecture such as SEC Centre, BBC Scotland or Squinty Bridge.

We still didn’t have enough, so we continued to Kelvingrove Park and towards amazing building of University of Glasgow. This historical building looks like real-life Hogwarts and it was perfect end of our Harry Potter’s themed trip. We have seen a lot of beautiful places in only 8 days and we are pretty sure that this was not our last visit of UK and Scotland.

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