Outside GO's Brit Bengry Travels to Ireland and Scotland
Outside GO’s Brit Bengry Travels to Ireland and Scotland
Our trip designer and European destination expert Brit reports back from her five-year anniversary dream trip with her husband.
As the plane touched down in Michigan, 22 long sleepless hours after leaving Edinburgh, I struggled with a concise way to sum up the three weeks I had just spent exploring Ireland and Scotland. It had been wonderful of course, but it had also been so much more than that. Beautiful, exciting, insightful, and perhaps most odd…unexpected.
Most of us have a destination that looms large in our imagination. For me both Ireland and Scotland have bartered for the top spot on my “must-see” list for years. Perhaps it was an innate calling to return to the place my family once called home a few generations ago, or perhaps I was simply enchanted with the thick Gaelic accents.
Whatever the reason, I’ve read and watched and dreamed about these countries for most of my life. So when my husband and I decided to head across the pond to celebrate our 5 year anniversary I thought I had a fairly decent idea of what to expect. I’ve rarely been so happy to be mistaken! Outside GO helped pull together key details that sent our experience truly over the top.
"For me both Ireland and Scotland have bartered for the top spot on my “must-see” list for years."
The history was richer, the hikes were more challenging, the landscapes put pictures to shame. Each new adventure exceeded my expectations. Every experience deepened my affection for places I already thought I had loved, only to realize it had merely been a shallow appreciation before.
The first and most obvious improvement on my assumptions was the scenery. Our first stop of the trip was Dublin and after recuperating from our jet lag, we left the city in search of the famed Irish countryside.Rolling green pastures straight out of a storybook covered the horizon. From this point on sheep were, quite literally, our constant companions and the cause of more than one traffic back-up. From the Gap of Dunloe and the Ring of Beara in County Kerry to the craggy snow-covered mountains of the Scottish Highlands, each bend in the road (and there are plenty) delivered another jaw-dropping view.
Though we made sure to see many of the hottest destinations, we also wanted to head off the beaten path in true Outside GO style. We based ourselves in County Donegal near the end of our time in Ireland at one of the finest castle hotels in the country—Lough Eske Castle. The staff here balance the posh atmosphere with an incredibly warm welcome which made it very tempting to simply relax in our room for our entire stay!
We did force ourselves out of the castle though, as the real attraction of Donegal is the outdoors. It was from here that we visited the Slieve League Cliffs, which are actually almost three times the height of the more well known Cliffs of Moher further south. Co. Donegal is also home to Malin Head, a hiker’s paradise where you can stand at the Ireland’s most northerly point. It also happens to be the area in which a large portion of Star Wars Episode VIII was filmed (a favorite of mine and my husband’s) and as you hike the craggy landscape it’s very easy to forget that you aren’t in another galaxy entirely.
"Here I could walk into a prehistoric burial cairn, touch ancient standing stones, and pound my way up stairs once walked by Chieftains and Ladies."
Another unexpected aspect of our trip was the sheer volume of history that seemed to be everywhere we looked. Though there are dozens of world class museums that I would recommend, both Ireland and Scotland are perfect for the traveler who doesn’t want to observe artifacts from behind a glass wall. Here the past is tangible and you’re invited to delve in for yourself.
The point where this was the most obvious was Kilmartin Glen, in western Scotland. This area is packed with ancient sites, that exist alongside modern life. Burial cairns and standing stones constructed 4,000-6,000 years ago now stand in sheep pasture. A once glorious Renaissance residence is now a ruin, but with spiral staircases that still stand five stories high, the ruin becomes yours to explore. If you look hard enough you can still find the toilet! On a rocky outcrop in the glen you can climb up to the site of a former hill fort known as Dunadd. Here on a stone at one of the highest points you’ll find a shallow oval imprint. It was at this site, on this exact stone, that the first kings of what would become Scotland would place one bare ft, survey their land, and pledge themselves to the people.
If a castle stay is what you’re after, Outside GO knows where to turn. Fonab Castle was one we particularly loved. Fonab sets itself apart with a thoroughly enchanting contemporary-meets-regal decor style. There’s no doubt when you arrive that you’re at a castle, but as you meander an interior full of glass walls and modern touches, you may start to question exactly what century you’ve been transported to.
"Here the past is tangible and you’re invited to delve in for yourself."
By the time we arrived in Edinburgh, our final destination, we had left all preconceived notions at the door. Before the trip I had assumed the small towns and countryside would easily take the cake as the best aspect. Edinburgh was happy to change that as well! Edinburgh was easy to fall in love with. Sprawling museums, unique neighborhoods, gorgeous city parks, and of course the imposing Edinburgh Castle standing above it all. It was an invigorating city and well worth more time than we had.
Now that I’ve dusted off the jet lag and sorted through all our photos, I’m more inspired than ever to share Ireland and Scotland with you.
Get in touch to start planning your own unexpected journey today, or check out a similar trip to Brittany’s at the link below!
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Brit’s Ireland and Scotland Trip Report
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