Today, we crossed the England/Scotland border three times!
Our first border crossing was on the drive from Shap, England to Gretna Green, Scotland. Greta Green grew out of a tiny nowhere town that was a blacksmith and not much else, back around 1750. Here’s why:
The English, in an attempt to stop young couples from eloping and getting secret marriages, put some laws in place: to get married without your parents’ consent, you had to be 21, and the marriage had to be in a church during daylight. But Scotland didn’t adopt these laws, so people would run across the border to get married, and Gretna Green was the closest town to the border (about a half-mile). You needed a witness to the wedding: someone of profession, like a blacksmith. But you didn’t need a priest! So the blacksmiths in Gretna Green started doing marriages. This turned into a lively trade, with more blacksmiths coming to profit from it, and that’s what put the town on the map.
One of the wedding rooms at Gretna Green
So we staged a fake wedding with the couple that “won” the blind date game last night. It had “cheesy tourist attraction” written all over it, but it was kinda fun anyway. Afterwards we did a little souvenir shopping; there are a lot of shops, and Roxy claims that the prices here are fairly good.
After that amusing bit of nonsense, we popped back into England and headed to Hadrian’s Wall. This wall marked the northern border of the Roman empire, and the site we visited was Housesteads Roman Fort: the remains of a fort built along the wall. There’s not a lot to see, since most of what’s left is only a foot or two high, but I’m a sucker for old ruins so I enjoyed it. Plus you’re allowed to climb all over it if you want, so you can walk on bits of the wall and so forth. There’s a museum too, but I didn’t even bother going into it. We didn’t have an enormous amount of time, and I was enjoying wandering the ruins and taking pictures.
Remains of a 19th-century well by the fort
After buying a quick snack (including “sea salt and cider vinegar crisps”, how British!), it was back onto the bus and back into Scotland! We stopped at the Scottish border crossing for the obligatory tourist photos. There was a bagpiper there too (playing, of course, “Scotland The Brave”). I briefly played with the idea of buying Dad one of the CDs he was selling, but for some reason Pamela didn’t think he’d enjoy it. (But I’m quite pleased to finally learn that “Scotland The Brave” is the name of that song that you always hear pipers playing.)
We made it to Scotland!
We stopped for a quick lunch at a service stop in a town called Jedburgh. There’s a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a few gift shops all together. It’s clearly a popular place for coach tours to stop for lunch. Nothing exciting to report here, though. We then headed on to Edinburgh. (I don’t quite have the proper pronunciation figured out, but it’s something like “Edinburra” or “Edinburrh”, if that makes sense.)
In Edinburgh, our tour manager Roxy went to meet the new people who are joining our tour. See, this trip we’re on is a “modular” tour…apparently the only one that Contiki does. It goes to England, Scotland, and Ireland, but they sell five different tour packages: all three countries, England and Scotland, Scotland and Ireland (I think), Scotland only, or Ireland only. They’re all on the same bus, so people join and leave at different points. Pamela and I are doing the “England And Scotland” trip, which means we’ll be leaving the group in Glasgow. (We are going to Ireland, but we’re doing that on our own, not with Contiki.)
That’s a lot of text to have to deal with. Here are some sheep to look at instead.
The new members of our group came out to our Scottish dinner event. We went to a restaurant (the Murrayfield Hotel and Lodge) where they served us a traditional Scottish dinner. (Appetizers: soup and haggis; entrée: chicken balmoral; dessert: sticky toffee pudding.) Yes, we both tried the haggis, and it was surprisingly edible. Very spicy, and oddly reminiscent of meatloaf. But we’re not likely to order it again.
(Actually, I didn’t finish any of my courses, including dessert. We’re both a little sick right now and I don’t have much of an appetite.)
After the meal, a bagpiper came out for an hour or so. He played the pipes, told jokes and stories, and generally entertained us. He was very popular. Apparently, this fellow (Andy) was the late Queen Mother’s favourite piper. He was a little crude, but always with a twinkle in his eye so he never came across as offensive. Very Scottish, really. I really enjoyed him and would have loved it if we had a longer show.
Andy the piper
Then the bus dropped most of the group off for a night on the town, and took the rest of us back to the hotel. Eventually. It seems like half the roads in the city of Edinburgh are under construction right now, so every time our driver though he knew how to get to the hotel, he ran into a “road closed” or “no right turns” sign or whatever. We definitely drove in circles a lot. He was impressively good-humoured about it.
And tonight in Edinburgh is our first two-night stay…with a later wake-up time tomorrow morning! I’m looking forward to that! What with us not feeling well, a bit of a slower pace for a day or two will be welcome. We’ve got a nice hotel, too. It’s a Holiday Inn, and we have double beds instead of twins for the first time on the trip. The room is a decent size, and we decided to pay for the in-room wifi. So it’s not a bad place to spend two nights.
We’re going to Edinburgh Castle in the morning; after that we don’t have any plans. We’ll see how we feel. We’re both pretty tired and Edinburgh is very hilly so we don’t expect to have the energy to do a whole lot. But who knows?