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Ireland & Scotland 2013 — Part II: SCOTLAND

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The Great Padgett Adventure of 2013 continued with seven days and nights in amazing Scotland. We started out with three days in Edinburgh, but we loved the city so much that we extended our stay by a couple extra days. Our location right on the Royal Mile in Old Town was perfect for exploration of that magnificent city, including historic streets and narrow alleys called closes, great shopping and, of course – pubs!

While there are loads of photos in the slideshow depicting amazing historic sites such as Edinburgh Castle and St. Giles Cathedral, one place not depicted due to photography restrictions is Mary King’s Close. The 17th Century alley was once a lively place housing residences, shops and taverns. The close was eventually buried beneath new buildings in the 18th Century, but has since been reopened for tours. Mary King’s Close remains an abandoned underground world with a reputation for paranormal activity related to victims of the bubonic plague. Spoooky!

On the last evening in Edinburgh, we jumped on one of the double-decker tour buses so that we could see other parts of the city that we didn’t get a chance to check out on foot. Lucky for us, we ended up on the last tour of the day, and we were the only passengers on the bus for the whole loop. The guide ditched her microphone and usual intercom tour to sit right next to us. She proceeded to give us a wonderful personalized tour. A truly unforgettable way to cap off our time in that amazing city.

Our next destination was the Scottish Highlands – Glencoe to be precise – but we made a couple of stops on the way. Up first was the Braveheart monument (officially called the National Wallace Monument) where we climbed 246 steps to the top of the tower for a panoramic view of the town of Stirling that included Stirling Castle. The monument stands on Abbey Craig were Wallace is reported to have ordered the charge toward the castle to defeat English forces in the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The monument also houses Braveheart’s 64-inch claymore sword that was purportedly used during that very battle.

Our next stop was in the Highland town of Killen – home to the Kinnel Estate. The estate is the former seat of the Clan Macnab, one of my ancestral Scottish clans. Driving up the unpaved road lined with huge trees through old stone fence pillars to reach the historic main house was an incredible experience.

And then there was Glencoe. Wow. Photos and movies featuring majestic Highland scenery is largely what attracted me to Scotland in the first place, and seeing the region with my own eyes was more magical than I could ever have imagined. Standing in valleys surrounded in all directions by enormous cragged mountains with waterfalls seemingly pouring from every crevice was magical, indeed.

Two days in Glencoe wasn’t nearly enough time to give that area the thorough exploration it deserves, but we took a relaxed approach to our visit that allowed us to feel the Highlands and breathe its air. Chilly air that is, so warming up by the fire at the Clachaig Inn’s pub with a dram or two of whisky was a fine way to end each day. Spectacular and enchanting, there will be no forgetting of Glencoe and the Scottish Highlands.

The Great Padgett Adventure of 2013 was coming to an end, but not before a quick stop at a whisky distillery. We weren’t about to leave Scotland without visiting one of its distilleries, nor without seeing one of the signature pagoda-style chimneys that gives Scottish whisky that smoky tast. A couple bottles of “souvenirs” were in order!

We hope you’ll enjoy the video slideshow of our time in Scotland, soundtracked with all Scottish music, of course. In case you missed it, also be sure to check out the Ireland slideshow.

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Ireland & Scotland 2013 — Part I: IRELAND

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Two years after our first visit to Ireland, we finally made it back to the Emerald Isle! At the end of September, we returned to Dublin for a couple of nights followed by three nights in the wonderful town of Westport.

Rather than return to our favourite Dublin spots from our first trip, we visited an entirely different set of restaurants, pubs and historic sites this time around. We loved the multistory O’Neill’s pub, the fine fish & chips at The Mercantile, the spooky and historically important prison Kilmainham Gaol, as well as a wonderful performance by Laura Marling at The Olympia. It was also great to catch up with some more radio friends from Phantom, 8 Radio, and Radio Nova at an amazing pub, The Long Hall.

On the way to Westport, we made a brief stop at the quaint Ballinahown Craft Village in Athlone. We picked up some amazing handmade Irish crafts for ourselves and friends, including silver Ogham Treasure alphabet jewellery handcrafted in Athlone, colourful fabric wallets, along with some cool items made of olive wood and ancient bogwood reclaimed from nearby bogs.

While in beautiful Westport, we enjoyed some amazing dinners at JJ O’Malleys perfectly Irish restaurant and took in some amazing live music at one of Ireland’s most famous pubs – Matt Molloy’s. Owned by the legendary flute player for The Chieftains, the pub is known and respected worldwide for the quality traditional Irish sessions that regularly go down there. On our first night at the pub we were fortunate to meet Matt himself, and we got to check out one of several GRAMMYs that Matt has won as part of The Chieftains. He wasn’t playing that night, but he warned us to get to the pub early a couple nights from then, as he was going to be performing as part of a national radio broadcast featuring an incredible lineup of Irish music legends. We did just that, squeezing into the Yard Bar section of Matt’s pub along with no more than 100 others – apparently they were mostly locals from the Westport area. We could not have dreamed of a more amazing, memorable night of Irish music.

In between those two amazing nights of live music, we ventured out to explore the majestic Connemara region. We drove through some of the most stunning scenery on earth filled with vibrant green mountains, calm lakes, and narrow winding roads. It’s hard to fathom that one part of this beautiful area – the Doolough Valley – was the site of horrific tragedy during the Irish Potato Famine.

Once again, one of our favourite things about Ireland is the thousands of grazing sheep branded with a variety of dye colours dotting the mountains and roadsides (if not the roads themselves). Although I think we may have seen more sheep during our first trip, we certainly saw a larger variety of dye colours this time around, including purple and orange.

Before heading back to Westport, we had a nice lunch in lovely Clifden at an entirely different O’Malley’s pub – this one with a fine view right from our table of Clifden Bay. Although Clifden’s population is a mere 2500 or so, the town is essentially the capital of the Connemara region.

After five days and nights of Irish greatness, The Great Padgett Adventure of 2013 had only just begun! On our last day, we flew out of the tiny Knock airport and headed to bonnie Scotland for full week of exploration. I hope you’ll enjoy our video slideshow of our adventures in Ireland, and stay tuned for Part II: SCOTLAND, coming soon to this here blog.