This summer, I had to miss the US Go Congress in favor of a family reunion in Ireland, but was able to attend the European Go Congress in Brussels instead. Starting with a week in Scotland and ending with a week in Switzerland, this was my longest vacation in a while.
If you follow @smartgo on Twitter, you’ve already seen some of the highlights. I want to provide more context and better pictures of my favorite spots on this trip, for armchair travelers as well as those who are lucky enough to one day visit these places.
Did you know the unicorn is the national animal of Scotland? Stirling Castle has all the features you’d expect of a castle, but unicorns on the roof? Unexpected.
From unicorns to The Kelpies (shape-shifting water spirits): these 30 meter high sculptures celebrate the horse-powered heritage of Scotland.
To connect two canals at different elevations, you can build a series of locks. Or a rotating lift for boats. The Falkirk Wheel is ingenious, moving boats with very little energy.
The landscape around Glencoe is beautiful, and we’ll certainly come back there for more hiking.
During the summer, you can take the Jacobite Steam Train from Fort William to Mallaig and back twice a day – a brilliant scheme for dumping a trainload of tourists in the picturesque port town of Mallaig at lunch and dinner. The viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter movies is now a major tourist attraction, and parking is limited, so get there very early if you want to time it such that you see the steam train pass over the viaduct. (Needless to say, we miscalculated.) Also, if you want to take the steam train, book far in advance. (A few weeks out, they had only a single one-way ticket left: our daughter got to take the train, and we were out of luck.)
Brochs are 2000 year old double-walled buildings, found only in Scotland; not much is known about their origins and purpose. We were lucky to see two that are among the best preserved: Dun Telve and Dun Troddan near Glenelg. Really fascinating. The multi-level design with a stair between the inner and outer wall is impressive.
The little car ferry between Glenelg and Isle of Skye is quite an experience: it only takes six cars, and the car deck is angled to make it easy to drive on and off. For the crossing, the deck is rotated by hand to align with the boat. I have not seen the movie yet, but apparently, this ferry was featured in Made of Honor.
The highlight was a fun dinner with Matt Gemmell, author of the action-thrillers CHANGER and TOLL. (No, he didn’t reveal any secrets about his upcoming third novel.)
We stayed in Glengarriff in County Cork, a lovely area.
Skibbereen Heritage Center
Skibbereen was badly affected by the Great Famine; it was sobering to learn more about the devastating potato famine of the 1840s (and the ever-present risk of monoculture), as well as the mismanaged response from England. Hard to believe that Ireland’s population was higher in 1841 than it is today.
The Kerry Cliffs are less famous than the Cliffs of Moher, but no less impressive. In the distance you can see Skellig Michael, famous for its monastery, birds, and Star Wars. Again, book far far ahead if you’re interested in visiting the island. While you’re there, I’d recommend visiting the nearby Skelligs chocolate factory for free samples. Their Lime & Black Pepper Chocolate Bar is delicious.
Gap of Dunloe
The Gap of Dunloe is stunningly scenic. We drove the narrow road through the pass by car; I’d prefer to hike it next time.
We’ll certainly visit both Scotland and Ireland again – many places I’d love to return to, and so much more to see.