Not All Who Wander Are Lost: 11 Places You Should Visit in the UK/Ireland

I realized I like to start things I’m writing by saying “so.”  I also realized that I seem to be getting into a habit of writing every Monday. I’ve been lazy; I can’t blame it all on Camus this week. I meant to write a number of different times, but the siren lure of sleep was always stronger. Also, I’m struggling with the peculiar self-doubt that I imagine plagues people who write. I mean, when it comes down to it, most of what I’m saying is completely irrelevant detritus from my not incredibly exciting life. It seems very arrogant to think that people really care that much about what I want to say. But I’ve committed to writing as my chosen profession, and that means I’m just going to have to power through and hope someone finds what I have to say interesting. So this time, instead of sharing with you my top ten dresses or the hottest guys I have a crush on, I decided to share with you probably the most interesting thing I’ve done in my life. This is a list (with pictures, yaaay!) of  some of my favorite places I went when I spent two and a half weeks in Europe.
When my sister, Rachel, was 19, she barely avoided having a serious, potentially life-threatening wreck driving back from school one day. I still remember my phone ringing, and before I even answered it I just had the most horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. She was crying so hard I couldn’t understand her- my sister, who never cries. It wasn’t long after that she decided she was going to Europe, no matter what it took. You see, growing up we had read endless amounts of books over foreign countries and it had always been our dream to travel someday. Rachel decided she wasn’t waiting around any longer and was going to make that dream happen, and she did. She flew on a plane for the first time to spend three weeks in Europe with a friend, and I was nearly sick with jealousy. But it just made the rest of our family determined that we were going to go.
Finally, we got our chance in 2009. I was graduating high school; my sister was graduating college. We contributed all of my graduation money, my parents went into minor debt,  Rae worked like crazy, and we managed to make it over there as a family. It was the best experience of my life, and it only made me more determined to get back there again. Hopefully these pictures will give you an idea why.
These are in no particular order, may I just state. Also, all photo credit goes to my prolific mother, who used approximately four memory cards in the two and a half weeks we were there.

11.  The Countryside, Ireland

We didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Ireland, but most of the time we were there we spent driving through countryside, which was an attraction in and of itself. I mean, do you see that? It’s patchwork. Seriously, patchwork. And it all looks like that. Ireland really is as green as they say, it’s crazy.

10. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

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I simply can’t say enough about Giant’s Causeway; it was one of my top places we went anywhere on this trip. I could’ve stayed here for days. The last picture is looking out into something of a little harbor, and there was a seal swimming. It was just outrageously gorgeous. Just these four pictures aren’t enough to do justice to the scope of the place and the wonder of it, but I thought I should limit myself to four of these, otherwise I would just go on about Giant’s forever.
Also, just a note, if you think that Northern Ireland and Ireland are the same country, YOU ARE WRONG. Never say that to someone from either place, trust me.

9. Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Northern Ireland

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I feel like I should’ve included this with Giant’s Causeway, because we did them the same day and they’re only a couple miles apart from each other along the coast of Northern Ireland, and I always associate Giant’s and Carrick-a-Rede because I loved them both so much. But, they are separate attractions, and Carrick-a-Rede deserves its own spot. Carrick-a-Rede is a tiny rope bridge that leads from the mainland coast to the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede. It was built because, traditionally, salmon fishers would cross the bridge (of which there have been many incarnatations) to fish off the island in the seasonal channels of the sea used by salmon.  The first picture gives you some idea of the absolute beauty of the water; it honestly did look like Caribbean water. The second picture is of me, facing one of my absolute greatest fears: heights. I am one hundred percent terrified of heights. But I was in Europe for the first time, and I resolved to toughen up and cross the bridge to the island. The third gives you a view of the bridge from the coast, just to get an idea of how tiny that bridge is and how high up. The wind also blows like crazy through the area between the coast and the island, and many days the bridge isn’t even safe to cross. So, basically, be impressed I did it, you guys.

8.  Edinburgh, Scotland

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Okayyy, I certainly cheated a little  bit here. We did a lot of different stuff in Edinburgh; it was probably my favorite overall city we went to. The first picture is just us walking down one of the streets of Edinburgh, the second is my sister and I in a pub we ate at for lunch. Hilariously, there was a “stag” party going on, aka a bachelor party. To our complete surprise, the drunken group of Scotsmen began cheerfully singing “Build Me Up, Buttercup” by The Foundations. Who knew the Scots liked Motown?? (PS this story will be relevant later on). The next two images are from Holyrood, the Queen’s official palace in Scotland (it has been the monarchy’s official residence in Scotland since the 16th century). Enjoy me laying in a sarcophagus; there were three or four scattered around and it seemed the only thing to do. The next image is a view of Edinburgh Castle (maybe my favorite place in Edinburgh) from the window of The Elephant Cafe, where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book. The last is a collage of three of the five stained glass windows from St. Margaret’s Chapel, a tiny church inside the walls of Edinburgh Castle. It is the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating from the 12th C. It has a fascinating story behind it that you can read about here. The middle window depicts St. Margaret, who is the one who makes the building truly fascinating and whom you can read about here.

7. Dunfermline Abbey, Scotland


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Dunfermline Abbey is the burial place of Robert the Bruce, arguably the most famous king of Scotland. The first picture shows the top of the Abbey, honoring Robert. There was a wedding going on while we there, so we didn’t actually get to go in the church and see where Robert the Bruce was buried. But it was pretty amazing because there was a bagpiper playing for a lot of the time we were there (second picture), and we actually got to see the couple take pictures and get into their amazing getaway car. I’m also almost sure we accidentally ended up in a couple of their wedding pictures…

6. The Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness, Scotland


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The top picture is from one of my favorite experiences on the trip; we drove through part of the Highlands and this is what everything looked like. Mist, rain, the jagged crags of land sliding in and out of view… it was exquisite. It was like the bones of the earth were bursting through the land. The second picture is from when we stayed on Loch Ness, which was nothing like I was expecting. You may not know, but Loch Ness is ENORMOUS. Like, it’s crazy, I never realized just how big it was. Probably the best known town around Loch Ness is Inverness, but we stayed in a town on the opposite side of the loch, which is incredibly long. The second picture shows Urquhart Castle, the ruins of which sit just along the bank of Loch Ness. We ate in a cafe onsite, where I’m convinced I saw my soulmate, a Scottish boy working in the cafe. Of course my mom couldn’t get a picture of that, but my dad did manage to say something about how cute I thought he was loudly enough that the boy heard him. I had to hide in the gift shop in shame. The last is me standing triumphantly in Loch Ness, daring Nessie to come at me, bro.
As I mentioned in my entry for Edinburgh, while we were at the pub we ran into a stag party singing Motown. Well, while walking around in the town we stayed in on Loch Ness, we passed a pub. The members of a “hen,” or bachelorette party, came stumbling out wearing feather boas and crowns. They were intoxicated. And they were singing “Chapel of Love” by The Dixie Cups. Either there was a conspiracy going on, or bachelor and bachelorette parties in Scotland really, really enjoy singing some Motown when they are out drinking and partying it up.

5. Eastbourne, England

Eastbourne is a town on the coast of England that boasts a really amazing pier, as you can see in the background. The water was appendage-numbing cold and the salt in it was burning my skin like fire. It made for an interesting combination. If you’re wondering what strange thing that is I’m doing with my hand, I was sarcastically demonstrating how cold the water was when my mother inquired. Part of the reason I loved Eastbourne so much is because it is one of the only places we had a really decent meal. I don’t mean to criticize the food of the UK and Ireland; I’m sure it was lovely. We were simply too poor to try anything beyond the most basic stuff (we ate from gas stations and American restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway a lot of the time). Another problem was that, in the UK/Ireland, restaurants close SO. MUCH. EARLIER. My family is used to eating at 8 or 9; most places we were at (besides London) closed at 5 or 6. By the time we got to Eastbourne, we were nearing the end of our trip, and we were basically starving. We had, again, waited too long to get dinner and everywhere we were looking was closed already. But, like a miracle rising from along the sea, we came upon The Carvery. It was similar to a buffet (or a Boston Market, if you’ve ever eaten at one. It’s my family’s collective favorite restaurant, but crushingly, there are none in Oklahoma), and it had simple choices of cuts of meat, like turkey and roast beef, and simple sides like mashed potatoes and green beans. We FEASTED. I still don’t know, to this day, if the food was really actually that wonderful, or if it’s really true about hunger being the best seasoning.

4. Site of the Battle of Hastings, England


Hastings, if you were not aware, is where William the Conqueror landed and fought the Battle of Hastings in 1066. He won, became King of England, and completely changed life as they knew it. This is a site that is particularly dear to my sister’s heart. She cut her toe by accident on a rock while we were taking the battlefield tour, and she deliberately knocked the scab off of it over and over in the hopes that it would become a scar, just so she could say she had a scar from Hastings (she was successful, in case you wondered). I’ve come to be fascinated even more by Hastings and William the Conqueror as I’ve gotten older, especially in regards to the effect his conquering of England had on the English language (it’s the English major in me). It’s somewhere I’d love to go back to. The first photo is us on the battlefield; the second is me sitting on the spot where King Harold was reputed to have been shot in the eye with an arrow and killed. I tried to edit the picture so you could maybe see the words and, as a result, my skin looks intensely strange and red, and I apologize.

3. Stonehenge, England

Rachel, myself, and my dad at Stonehenge. I mean, it’s Stonehenge. It’s as amazing as you’d expect (except for the whole disappointing fact that you can’t actually go up to Stonehenge itself, and must stay behind the ropes). The only really weird thing about Stonehenge is, you picture it as being out in the middle of nowhere (or at least that’s how I pictured it), but in reality there’s a major highway right by it. Kind of a jarring disconnect between the ancient past and modernity.

2. London, England

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big ben


London is one of the most amazing, overwhelming places I’ve ever been. There’s simply too much I could say over it, so I just hit a few of the more famous highlights. I only know that I am determined to return there one day and spend more time, because there is so much we missed (Most disappointingly to me: Hyde Park and Herrod’s…ughhh). First picture: Tower Bridge; Second: Westminster Abbey; Third: Big Ben from a boat on the Thames; Fourth: “Mind the Gap” warning from the Underground, aka the tube; Fifth: Myself and one of the famous ravens of the Tower of London.

1. British Museum, London, England

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Okay. So. I know I said that these weren’t in any particular order, and that’s true for all entries, except this one. The British Museum is the single most amazing place I’ve ever been in my life. The amount of history and culture and art and just things of relevance to our identity as humans packed into that building is mind-blowing. We spent an entire day here and didn’t even come close to looking at everything. I came to the conclusion when we left that I could probably live in the British Museum, happily. My face in the second to last picture pretty much says it all; I couldn’t even comprehend the sheer splendor of the British Museum. Of everywhere we went, that is the place I am most determined to get back to. Just a note, the picture of me reflected in the Rosetta Stone is one of my favorite pictures of me of ALL TIME. Also, I know the British Museum is also in London, but it deserved its own spot, right at number one.

Honorable Mention:

Doune Castle, Scotland

This may look familiar to you, and if so, it’s for a very good reason. Doune Castle was the site used to film the castle scenes in Monty Python: The Holy Grail. For all MP lovers, it’s a really cool spot to visit, but it only makes Honorable Mention because there is nothing but an empty castle left with very little to actually do. Also, we got attacked by a swarm of flies when we were trying to leave. I am not even kidding; it was like a plague of flies attacked our car.

Adam Smith’s Grave, Canongate Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

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To me, this was one of the most bewildering things ever. If you don’t know who Adam Smith is, his most notable achievement is probably the fact that he is known as the FOUNDER OF CAPITALISM. Seriously. The guy founds capitalism, and this is the best they can do for his eternal resting place?? I was outraged on Mr. Smith’s behalf. His marker is literally a tiny plaque in the ground surrounded by pebbles and yellow grass. It was a crushing reminder of the fickle nature of life and fame, and for that it goes on the Honorable Mention list only. (Smh, Edinburgh.)

Gretna Green, Scotland

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Gretna is probably a very obscure site that most people won’t care about at all. But if you have ever read romance novels… ahhh, so many romance novel dreams were realized when we went through Gretna Green. It was just… fantastic. (It was a very tiny town with not a lot in it, but it was still a dream come true to actually have been). If you’re curious why, you can read about what made Gretna Green so famous in the past, and even still today in Scotland, right here.

Well, I hope you enjoyed my list and found some of these place sufficiently intriguing enough to check them out or, perhaps, even spark a desire for travel. I think that travel is one of the most beneficial, educational, and enjoyable things a person can do in this life, and I encourage everyone to take the chance if they ever get it. For example, on this trip I learned that Ireland really is as green as everyone says, that Scottish people love Motown for pre-wedding events, and that English people really do say “Cheers” constantly. Seriously. It’s ALL THE TIME.  The world is an unbelievably amazing, scary, and fascinating place. Hopefully I’ll bump into you somewhere while I wander within it.

Oiche mhaith,

PS I went with the Irish words for “Good night” because I have already spent like three or four hours putting this post together and I don’t want to take the time to look up any other languages. Luckily, I am good friends with an Irishman who speaks Irish and has already taught me the way to say good night in Irish. Also, I feel bad because there is very little of Ireland on this post. We regrettably spent only about twoish days within it because of time problems.