Tag Archive | Aberdeen Scotland

Discovering Aberdeen’s history: Start at the Tolbooth!

As I mentioned in my previous post, we did not originally plan to spend much time in Aberdeen and did not really know much about the city or it’s history.  Our  intent was just to fly into Aberdeen and then quickly head out towards Inverness.  Naturally, most people want to see Inverness or Edinburgh but really, how often do people list Aberdeen on their list of places of must visits for history or anything else?  I will be the first to admit that we were initially quite disappointed when we had to alter our plans and eliminate Inverness from our tour. Our first depressing and foreboding thought was one of, “Well this is just great, now we’re stuck in Aberdeen for three days. What are we going to do with three days in Aberdeen?”  At the time, we really had no other choice but to rather petulantly and grudgingly accept our fate and try to make the best of it.  At the end of three days however, we were complaining because we did not have enough time to see everything.  My personal thought as I left was of how and when I could make another visit!

Aberdeen city of history

The disaster that led to our longer stay in Aberdeen was actually one of  fate or the powers above intervening on our behalf. It provided us an opportunity to explore, discover and appreciate a city that in my personal opinion does not get nearly enough credit for it’s historical importance or it’s present day contributions. What I want to do is share some of what we discovered and maybe change your mind about Aberdeen.  Hopefully by the time I’ve finished, you will be interested and inspired to look at this city not just as a stopping or transfer point on your way to those other places, but as a destination in itself.

First, let’s look at why we even decided on Aberdeen as our starting point for our trip rather than one of the other flight options. Our original plan was to do a driving tour. We knew we wanted to visit Inverness as well as Edinburgh so when we looked at the map, we saw that Aberdeen would be a good option. It is located on the coast a few hours north of Edinburgh and also only a few hours from Inverness. The drive from Aberdeen to Inverness would take you along the Castle trail. The Aberdeenshire area of Scotland is most famous for the number of Castles located there (My main reason for wanting to back)! 

This is a map showing various sites of interest close to the Aberdeen area. Yes, there are even Standing Stones nearby- I will be doing more research on them!

castles near Aberdeen

This map shows Aberdeen in relation to Inverness and Edinburgh. I do want to add here that because of the way our plans were altered, we were unable to fit Inverness into our schedule.  It is very easily doable to take the train from Aberdeen to Inverness, then train from Inverness to Edinburgh. When I checked the train time, it states about a 2 1/2 hour trip from Aberdeen to Inverness. That is not the purpose or focus here though so I am not going to go further into it here other than to say that our experiences with the train and bus systems were great. I will definitely go that option in any future trips!

map showing Aberdeen

Now you understand our main reason for choosing Aberdeen as starting point and why we were looking at it as just a quick stop over. Fortunately, we were inadvertently rewarded with that unexpected longer stay to get to know Aberdeen better!

What we found in Aberdeen was a fascinating history that stretches back at least 8000 years. Besides that history, we discovered a city that is friendly and welcoming but  not a kitschy, over done or over crowded tourist magnet.  There is a wealth of history to be explored here but that is not it’s truest wealth, asset or value.

1969 considerable deposits of crude oil were discovered in the North Sea. Since then, North Sea Oil has come to eclipse Aberdeen’s traditional industries, employing an estimated half a million people living in and around the city. Aberdeen’s port has been improved and developed to serve the off shore oil rigs with the result that most of the fishing fleets have been moved along the shore to Peterhead. Economically this so called “European Oil Capital” has left other Scottish cities behind – indeed, by some accounts it is the wealthiest area in the UK outside the southeast of England.

Aberdeen is a Scottish success story. Any visitor to the city will be impressed by the lively bustle of its streets and the ceaseless activity in the port. The impact of the petroleum industry is undeniable, but in some senses it should not be seen as a development which entirely breaks with the past: Aberdeen has always been a successful port city and has always had an internationally minded economy. Today this  University City is home to around a quarter of a million people and provides cultural diversions for all ages. For the visitor its grand granite buildings, which shimmer like polished silver, its distinctive neighborhoods, its harbour and sandy beach, provide other, more natural, attractions.

Throughout our stay, we observed that the city seems to be undergoing  massive renovation and construction in just about every area from the outskirts of the airport to the city center and all points surrounding it. Do not let that deter or sway you from visiting the area! Our taxi driver pointed out that this work is all much needed and deserved by the city that has contributed so much financially to the UK and it’s about time they got something back! He took all of the construction in stride and gave us a pleasant and much amusing trip from the airport to our hotel near the city center.  I have to say that everyone we encountered during our stay was friendly and helpful with suggestions and commentary about their city.  One other added bonus- everything was less expensive than in Edinburgh! 

As I’ve pointed out, we didn’t know much about the city so one of our first stops was the Tourist information center located near the city center. They went out of their way to help us with everything from free maps to writing notes and directions on the map for us, to giving advice and directions on using the bus system along with which bus to take to different areas. They also offer a variety of day tours to activities and sites outside the city making it very easy to many of those sites if you’re not driving.  One added suggestion on the bus system that they pointed out- besides the city buses, there are buses going to many of the outlying villages and sites you might want to visit. We did not have extra time for those options but the staff will happily fill you in on how to get to certain sites- such as which bus to take, where you can catch the bus and what times they run.  Because we knew so little about the city or it’s history, they suggested we start with a quick tour of the Tolbooth museum which happens to be right across the street from them. I did mention that there is a great deal of renovation and construction going on throughout the city- the Tolbooth block/building is no exception but do not let that deter you from your visit!

Tollbooth tower renovations

Tolbooth block and buildings undergoing renovations

tollbooth and townhouse plaque

plaque on building next door to Tolbooth

Tolbooth Museum

The Tolbooth Museum is one of Aberdeen’s oldest buildings and one of the best-preserved 17th century gaols in Scotland. It features displays on local history and the development of crime and punishment through the centuries. It  provides a unique experience in the form of its atmospheric 17th and 18th century cells, original doors and barred windows. Displays include the Maiden and the blade of Aberdeen’s 17th century guillotine as well as some animated cell inhabitants. Regarding the animations-they were not scary. This is not a spooky type tour. I have heard a few people comment that they were a bit disappointed or let down as they were led to believe it would be more of a ghost, haunting or scarier type experience with more visual effects. If that is what you are looking for, this does not fit that category. It was a bit eerie and haunting but in a realistic way of getting a feeling of what it was like to be incarcerated here back then. 

banner-ackobites-cell

tolbooth museum

 

While the supposed main focus or purpose of the museum is it’s history as gaol or jail, it does provide an excellent introduction to the history of Aberdeen. It is a free tour and probably takes less than hour to do…  we spent a bit longer in there because we had an excellent tour guide who was very informative and gave much additional insight to the overall history. The first half of the tour is about the history of Aberdeen with displays and dioramas of the earliest beginnings of the area that originally consisted of two separate villages. Once our guide realized we were very much interested in the history, he probably went into more depth on it than usual. He seemed rather excited to share the added history with us and we enjoyed all of it! During the first portion of the tour, we learned about some of the early  events and people that had connections to Aberdeen. These important connections go back as far as the Picts and much of the history can be found around Aberdeen yet today.  The legend of Saint Machar tells that Machar was  a companion of St Columba on his journey to Iona.  God (or St Columba) told Machar to establish a church where a river bends into the shape of a bishop’s crosier before flowing into the sea. The River Don bends in this way just below where the Cathedral now stands. According to legend, St Machar founded a site of worship in Old Aberdeen in about 580. He ministered to the Picts around Aberdeen. For this reason he was described anachronistically as the first Bishop of the see of Aberdeen.  The church was also the site for another legend surrounding William Wallace. After the execution of William Wallace in 1305, his body was cut up and sent to different corners of the country to warn other dissenters. His left quarter ended up in Aberdeen and is buried in the walls of the cathedral. 

 

Robert the Bruce also had a connection to Aberdeen. In 1136, David I began the development of New Aberdeen north of the River Dee, and the earliest charter was granted by King William the Lion about 1179, confirming the corporate rights granted by David I, which gave trade privileges to the burgesses. This charter is the oldest surviving charter. The city received other royal charters later. In 1319, the Great Charter of Robert the Bruce transformed Aberdeen into a property owning and financially independent community. Bruce had a high regard for the citizens of Aberdeen who had sheltered him in his days of outlawry, helped him win the Battle of Barra and slew the English garrison at Aberdeen Castle. He granted Aberdeen with the nearby Forest of Stocket. The income from this land has formed the basis for the city’s Common Good Fund, which is used to this day for the benefit of all Aberdonians.

Aberdeen is also home to King’s College, one of the oldest universities in the British Isles.  In 1495, William Elphinstone, the relatively newly appointedBishop of Aberdeen, petitioned Pope Alexander VI on behalf of King James IV to create the facility to cure the ignorance he had witnessed within his parish and in the north generally. A papal bull was issued in February 1495 (1491 in the calendar of the day) founding the university; a royal charter later that year recognised Aberdeen’s status as equal to that of Scotland’s two existing universities at Glasgow and St Andrews. As a former professor at the University of Paris, Elphinstone modelled the university very much on the continental European tradition. Hector Boece, a fellow professor at Paris, was awarded the status of first principal of the new institution. It would not be until 1509, with the issuance of a charter by Elphinstone, that university life at King’s truly began. Construction of the chapel began in 1498; it was consecrated in 1509 and dedicated to St Mary. By 1514, the university had some forty-two members in the form of both staff and students.

Once you finish your tour of the Tolbooth, you can easily find monuments to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce on a walk around the city. You can take a city bus to Old Aberdeen to tour St. Machar’s Cathedral and King’s College. You can also easily take a bus to another site, the Gordon Highlanders Regimental museum which I will talk about later. 

William Wallace monument in Aberdeen

William Wallace monument in Aberdeen

William Wallace monument inscription 1

William Wallace monument inscription 1

William Wallace inscription 2

William Wallace inscription 2

Robert the Bruce monument in front of Marichal College building in Aberdeen

Robert the Bruce monument in front of Marichal College building in Aberdeen

Marichal College building in Aberdeen, now used as offices

Marichal College building in Aberdeen, now used as offices

St Machar's Cathedral in Old Aberdeen

St Machar’s Cathedral in Old Aberdeen

King's College entrance in Old Aberdeen

King’s College entrance in Old Aberdeen

gordon highlander museum2 gordon highlanders museum

 

The only thing you won’t be able to find is Aberdeen Castle! The Castle was situated on Castle Hill, a site today known as the Castlegate, near the City center.  

Castlegate area today

Castlegate area today

Mercat cross at city center

Mercat Cross at Castlegate area near Tolbooth Musuem in Aberdeen

You will see the unicorn throughout Aberdeen and other places in Scotland as it is Scotland’s national animal! You will also find mercat crosses in various cities of Scotland. A mercat cross is the Scots name for the market cross found frequently in Scottish cities, towns and villages where historically the right to hold a regular market or fairwas granted by the monarch, a bishop or a baron. It therefore served a secular purpose as a symbol of authority, and was an indication of a burgh‘s relative prosperity. Historically, the term dates from the period before 1707 when Scotland was an independent kingdom, but it has been applied loosely to later structures built in the traditional architectural style of crosses or structures fulfilling the function of marking a settlement’s focal point. Historical documents often refer simply to “the cross” of whichever town or village is mentioned. Today, there are around 126 known examples of extant crosses in Scotland,  though the number rises if later imitations are added.

Aberdeen’s mercat cross history would go back to that earlier history when it received  Royal Burgh status from David I of Scotland (1124–53). 

The cross was the place around which market stalls would be arranged, and where ‘merchants’ (Scots for shopkeepers as well as wholesale traders) would gather to discuss business. It was also the spot where state and civic proclamations would be publicly read by the “bellman” (town crier). The cross was also the communal focal point of public events such as civic ceremonials, official rejoicings, and public shamings and punishments, including executions. Some crosses still incorporate the iron staples to which jougs and branks were once attached. This would be the reason for it’s close proximity to the Tolbooth, which would often hold public executions right outside their door.

Despite the name, the typical mercat cross is not usually cruciform, or at least has not been since the iconoclasm of the Scottish Reformation. The cross atop the shaft may have been replaced with a small statue, such as a royal unicorn or lion, symbols of the Scottish monarchy, or a carved stone displaying the arms of the royal burgh, or, in the cases of ecclesiastical burghs or burghs of barony, the bishop’s or feudal superior‘s coat-of-arms. Thus the reason for the Unicorn at top of Aberdeen’s mercat cross.

Five crosses: at Edinburgh, Dundee, Perth, Aberdeen and Preston (modern Prestonpans) were supported by a drum-shaped understructure, known as a cross-house, with a platform reached by internal steps or ladder. In the case of Aberdeen‘s late 17th-century cross the platform is supported by a series of open semi-circular arcades. 

 

close up of unicorn at top of mercat cross

Close up of unicorn at top of mercat cross

 

views of city center city center view of black friars pub

The castle was surrendered to the English in 1295 and on 14 April 1296, the English King, Edward I arrived in Aberdeen and stayed in the castle as part of his tour of the east coast of Scotland having defeated the Scots.  However the next year, after defeating the English at Dunnottar Castle in 1297, William Wallace marched his men to Aberdeen during their campaign to retake the east-coast for the Scots.

They found the English hastily preparing to leave in an armada of one hundred ships. The speed of Wallace’s arrival from Dunottar caught the English unawares and at low tide the stranded ships were attacked in the harbour, the crew and soldiers slaughtered, the cargo taken and the ships burnt. The English Sheriff of Aberdeen, Sir Henry de Lazom had been left in charge of the Castle, but during the chaos of the attack he defected, declaring it in the name of the Scottish King, John de Balliol.  This account of William Wallace’s actions and victory in Aberdeen would certainly explain or justify why the English may have sent a portion of his executed body back to Aberdeen! 

It is thought the castle and fortifications were burned down  by King Robert the Bruce in June 1308, during the Wars of Scottish Independence immediately following the Harrying of Buchan. Bruce and his men laid siege to the castle before massacring the English Garrison to prevent its use by the English troops of Edward II. It is said the Scots showed no mercy but “slew every man who fell into their hands. Edward I, indeed, had already set the example of executing his prisoners, and it was not to be expected that the other side would fail to follow the same course”. On 10 July 1308, English ships left Hartlepool to help the English garrison.  However, by August 1308, Gilbert Pecche and the last troops had all been forced out of the city. Following the destruction of Aberdeen Castle, Bruce marched his men to capture Forfar Castle.  Legend tells that the city’s motto, Bon Accord came from the password used to initiate Bruce’s final push and destruction of the castle.  Bon Accord translates to Good Agreement. 

In the first part of the Tolbooth’s history tour, you will find a diorama display of the earliest days of Aberdeen.  At that early time, it was still two separate villages and there were three hills. The city began as two separate burghs: Old Aberdeen at the mouth of the river Don; and New Aberdeen, a fishing and trading settlement, where the Denburn waterway entered the river Dee estuary.  The city was burned by Edward III of England in 1336, but was rebuilt and extended, and called New Aberdeen. The city was strongly fortified to prevent attacks by neighbouring lords, but the gates were removed by 1770. 

Aberdeen was in Pictish territory and became Gaelic-speaking at some time in the medieval period. Old Aberdeen is the approximate location of Aberdon, the first settlement of Aberdeen; this literally means “the mouth of the Don”. The Celtic wordaber means “river mouth”, as in modern Welsh (Aberystwyth, Aberdare, Aberbeeg etc.). The Gaelic name is Obar Dheathain (variation: Obairreadhain) (obar presumably being a loan from the earlier Pictish; the Gaelic term is “inbhir”), and in Latin, the Romans referred to the river as Devana. Mediaeval (or ecclesiastical) Latin has it as Aberdonia. You can see a remnant of the Pictish history on a tour of St Machar’s Cathedral.

Pictish carving at Machar's Cathedral

Pictish carving at Machar’s Cathedral

pictish cross stone information at Machar's Cathedral

pictish cross stone information at Machar’s Cathedral

Over the centuries, the rivers were diverted at various times and two of the three original hills disappeared. Aberdeen Castle sat on Castle hill (Castlegate). This is the only remaining hill. The other two hills were Port hill where the early City Gate was, and St. Catherine’s hill which has been completely leveled. Those three hills are represented on the city’s shield of arms and on the city’s banner flag by three towers.  

coat of arms for Aberdeen

coat of arms for Aberdeen

City Banner flag of Aberdeen

City Banner flag of Aberdeen

 

tolbooth2

 

The second half of the Tolbooth tour went further up the stairs to the cells with history of the jail and it’s various inhabitants from some early witches, a pirate, a lot of debtors, and some Jacobites after the rebellion of 1745. As he talked about the Jacobites, our guide gave us some insight from the standpoint and perspective of ones who were not Jacobites but suffered consequences and affects of the various rebellions. His comments and thoughts gave me pause for thought and inspired me to learn more about all of the sides, the reasons and complexities of so many events taking place over the years,  which combined and culminated in the last Jacobite rebellion.  Most of the tour history on the cells and inhabitants dealt with the period of that last rebellion and later. If you look at Aberdeen’s earlier history and the date the prison was built, it most likely played a part in the rebellions and civil wars during the 1600s. 

The Tolbooth was built between 1616 and 1629 by Thomas Watson, a master mason from Old Rayne. The Wardhouse of the Tolbooth was the prison for both the Royal Burgh of Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire until the 19th century.

Over the centuries The Tolbooth has witnessed, and often played a part in, some of the key events in Aberdeen’s and Scotland’s history. During the 1745 Jacobite rebellion, when the Duke of Cumberland stayed in Aberdeen in order to put down the rebellion here before leaving for Culloden, he posted troops on the steeple of The Tolbooth to watch out for rebels and very visibly display the reasserting of royal authority. After the rebels had been defeated at Culloden hundreds of rebel prisoners were brought back to The Tolbooth where they were interrogated. In the mid-18th century The Tolbooth was one of the many places associated with one of the darkest episodes of Aberdeen’s history. A number of Aberdeen’s merchants and magistrates organised the kidnapping of hundreds of children from both the town and countryside. These children were then stored in various places, including The Tolbooth, before being transported to the Americas and sold as indentured servants.

Regarding the Tolbooth’s involvement in that darker part of Aberdeen history- the child slavery mentioned above, the Tolbooth museum was more recently involved in opening the curtains of that shrouded more secret history. On 11-06-07 the city of Aberdeen pulled back the curtain on a dark part of the cities history. At the Tolbooth Museum “Open to the Public” they had re-enactments of a very dark part of Aberdeen’s past history and helped to tell the stories of those children.  You can read the story of one of those abducted children here:

The Tale of Peter Williamson   http://unknownscottishhistory.com/articleseventeen.php

The Tolbooth stopped being used as a prison in the 19th century and was replaced by Aberdeen’s first ‘modern’ prison, the Bridewell, built on what we now call Rose Street. The Tolbooth remained in use during the time the Bridewell was opened and after, when the Bridewell was replaced by the East Prison on Lodge Walk, as a holding prison. The Tolbooth survived when the new Townhouse was laid out. The front of The Tolbooth was encased in granite, but the rear of the building still shows its original sandstone with its 17th century battlements. 

For anyone interested in history, this museum is an excellent introduction to the history of Aberdeen. It was my first stop on the way to learning about Aberdeen’s long, turbulent past and how it fit in with the rest of the many events that shaped and forged what Scotland has become today.  My only caution to those visiting the museum- it is not suitable for anyone with mobility difficulties as the only way to reach the museum is by way of very narrow medieval type spiral type steps up to the different levels. Because of the building, there is no way to provide any assistance or other option to reach the upper levels- my meaning in this- there is no way for them to say install a lift or elevator.  It is also probably not suitable or appropriate for young children who would not really understand much of the history presented. 

You can plan your visit to the Tolbooth for early in the morning and then head out to all of the other sites of interest within the city. After our visit to the Tolbooth, we went to the Maritime museum which was fairly short walk from city center. This museum gives you a great history of Aberdeen’s long connection to the sea as a port city from it’s earliest beginnings to it’s present day importance in the oil industry. There are a number of hands on activities for children and it also currently has a toy history exhibit which everyone will find interesting and fun!

Aberdeen maritime museum early diving suit at maritime museum robot diver at maritime museum

After the Maritime museum, we went back up to city center and embarked on a self guided walking tour of the city. The maps provided by the tourism office were excellent and we found it easy to find our way around the city. We stopped at St Nicholas Kirk which is easy to spot due the Arches. It is close to city center and you really can’t miss it!

St Nicholas Arch

St Nicholas Arch

St Nicholas kirkyard information

St Nicholas kirkyard information

walkway to St Nicholas Kirk

walkway to St Nicholas Kirk

graves and tombstone in St Nicholas kirkyard

graves and tombstone in St Nicholas kirkyard

St Nicholas Kirk

St Nicholas Kirk

We continued our walking tour and eventually found the William Wallace monument. It was a long walk but we had a beautiful day for it and the city was full of sites and scenery to view.

views of the city

Later in the afternoon, we returned to city center and headed out in the opposite direction with a trek down to the harbor, the old fishing village neighborhood of Footdee or Fittie. The guidebooks and tourist info are a little misleading about this area… it is not a living history village but is an actual residential neighborhood with it’s buildings still being those old stone cottages from the days of the original fishing village. It was a nice walk down to the harbor and beach though. You can walk along the seawall walk behind the cottages towards the beach area. 

footdee seawall walk footdee-fittie

north sea coast3 North sea coast at Aberdeen north sea 2

On our walk back up from the beach we found a great little pub called Fittiebar. You won’t find this pub/bar on the tour guides. It is not one of those trendy touristy type places, it is in the working neighborhood of the docks. There is nothing fancy about it. It is a casual comfortable working class place to grab a pint, a plate, relax and probably enjoy the company of regulars and friends. The menu is on the board listing the specials for the day, though the Bartender/server did laugh and mention that one of these days they get posh and order some real menus… My personal advice- don’t change a thing! Possibly the best part of the experience was seeing her mix up the batter for our fish with an addition of beer from the tap! 

fittie bar2

Fittiebar in Aberdeen

IMG_7531 fittie bar menu

That was our first day in Aberdeen! In my next post, I will share more of our stay in Aberdeen along with more of it’s history. This awesome Granite city so full of  interesting history that I am intrigued and fascinated with all of it! As I mentioned in the beginning, everyone is so interested in the other cities and places such as the Highlands and Edinburgh that Aberdeen and the area around it does not get the attention it deserves!  I look forward to returning and exploring more of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Race adventure from Aberdeen to Dublin!

Before I share our adventure, I just want to apologize for my lack of posting for the past month or so. Much of that time was spent preparing for this journey and then embarking upon it. I also want to let my Vikings Saga followers know that I will eventually catch up with my show thoughts and reviews but it will probably be after this first half of the extended season has ended! I am behind in my viewing but have kept up with what is going on so far… my one thought right now is, who is going to be left at the end of this half?  Most of the adult older generation seem to be falling quickly- not that some of those falls all are such a bad thing! Also for Vikings fans, much of my tour included Viking related history in the various cities along with more ancient Roman history. One example of the Scandinavian history and influence was found on ceilings in Edinburgh! A number of tours pointed out the ceilings that showed the earliest Scandinavian motifs and designs.

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For Outlander fans and followers, I did just catch the season 2 premier and am looking forward to the rest of the season. I loved the way they’ve presented Frank’s side of the situation… but then again, I am a Frank fan anyway so I was thrilled with this scenario. I will be attempting to add more Outlander related posts throughout this upcoming season!  Some of my tour did include Scotland and Scottish history pertaining to the time period of the Jacobites and the rebellions but I will also be sharing some additional insights provided by various tour guides. One of the most insightful guides was at the Tolbooth museum in Aberdeen who shared some of the Jacobite history and how it affected others who were not Jacobites but suffered just as much through the various rebellions.  We also visited the Gordon Highlanders Regiment museum which gave us insight into years after the rebellion and how those regiments held onto their highland heritage. I will go into more of that insight and history in a separate post about Aberdeen.

banner-ackobites-cell tolbooth museum tolbooth2 gordon highlanders museum dirks with accessories gordon highlander museum2

 

In other miscellaneous news updates, I just want to share some recent comments about one of my favorite book series. I read this a while ago but didn’t have a chance to post it until now… author Elizabeth Chadwick shared a bit of  interesting and hopeful news about her William Marshal series! She has mentioned that the rights to it have been purchased for possible eventual filming! “my Marshal novels have had the rights bought by a film company recently – hooray!!. I have historical consultancy rights on board and they are looking at making a two hour pilot. There is still a long way to go and it still might not happen, but the spark is there.”  She posted this on her Goodreads page recently and I was thrilled to hear of this possibility. 

One last important update and forewarning… In order to accommodate all of the pictures involved with this vacation, I have had to begin culling older pictures from my media library! I am trying to cull only the unattached photos but I know from previous experience that sometimes those photos are attached to a post. If you are browsing through older archived posts and notice missing pictures, I do apologize for that but there is little I can do about it at the moment. I am running close to my media limits and after the expenses of this vacation, I can’t quite afford to upgrade yet to a higher limit!

 

Amazing Race adventure!

From Aberdeen to Dublin

Now, on to the main focus of this post, our Amazing Race adventure that began in Aberdeen, Scotland and ended in Dublin, Ireland. I have say that while this was truly an epic and awesome tour, it really did feel like Amazing Race with all of it’s challenges, roadblocks and detours. After spending so much time pre-planning this trip, we ended up scrapping the well laid plans and truly winging it. From the very beginning  hurdle/challenge in Aberdeen, I felt like Phil Keoghan was going to show up in front of us and tell us “I’m sorry but you’ve been eliminated” before we even started the race.  

Now that we have survived and won our personal race, I can look back on all of it and admit that some of the challenges and difficulties were caused by our own miscalculations and mistakes. The first massive setback was our ordeal with the third party rental agency that we had booked our car rental from. The car rental plan turned out be a disaster that ended with us losing the money we had pre-paid on the car rental as well as now having to completely alter our original plan of driving… In retrospect, that did turn out to be a huge hidden favor or blessing because realistically the driving idea was not so great as we originally thought.  At the time, however, this roadblock did create some initial moments of panic for us- as in, “Now what the hell do we do?”  Luckily, we are resilient and adaptable, and the panic quickly subsided. Our panic eased but our continued and still lingering irritation with said car rental agency has not disappeared. They cost us a lot of cash and time that could have been used to much better purpose than having to continue to wait on them! To make a long story short, we arrived in Aberdeen on Monday morning and our ordeal with car company dragged out till Wednesday. On Monday, they assured us that all of the problems could be taken care of and we could pick up a car on Wednesday with no extra charges… When we returned there on Wednesday, a different agent told us there was an enormous additional charge, that she did not know anything about any previous promises or assurances made to us and that she could not honor any such promise. The most frustrating part of that experience was that we had wasted much time on waiting around for the rental car company. If we had not been assured a resolution to the situation, we would have planned our time in Aberdeen differently! There were some excellent day tours available through the local tourism office that we could have taken advantage of had we not had to bother with waiting on that damnable car rental agency. One good thing to come from that horrific beginning was that we did get spend more time exploring the city of Aberdeen and it’s history!

william wallace monument1

Initial panic and frustrations aside, we opted for plan B… yes, we did have to quickly devise plan B but it actually worked out far better than the driving plan. Plan B was to check out the train system and alter our entire trip around it.  We should have just planned that route from the beginning, but as we all know, hindsight is 20/20.  This new much altered plan meant we had to eliminate some previously planned sites but it did allow for more time in the places we did visit. It also eliminated the stress of trying to drive, which my daughter admitted later was a good thing!

Our new plan gave us three and a half days in Aberdeen, three days in Edinburgh, two days in Cardiff, two days in London and one final day spent in Dublin.  

Overall, this all worked out so much better than our original plan and most of the hotels and booking agencies were very helpful with the changes we had to make to all of our reservations. I say most because there was one agency and hotel that turned out to be even worse than the car rental… I need to voice my still very seething frustration and outright disgust with Booking.com and with the Abbey Court Hotel in London! We had no problems what so ever with Hotels.com or with any other hotel during our trip but my personal advice, based our experience,  to other travelers would be to avoid booking.com and Abbey Court Hotel! Perhaps my view of Abbey Court was biased because of our experience with them in conjunction with booking.com and the fact that each party insisted on blaming each other for the problems. Perhaps my disgust and ill temper with them was due to sheer exhaustion by then and I am being overly harsh with them, expecting too much from them based on my experiences with the hotels in the other places we stayed. I did try to tell myself that.  I also made serious attempt to rationalize that this was London after all, and for the price we were paying, we should not really complain too much about the room condition… that being somewhat rationalized, I was still left with the fact that the staff was rude and passed off the issue on to others rather than trying to admit any blame or even appease us in any way.  I was also left with the overheard complaints of other guests about various aspects of the accommodations and service. That all being vented, the only plus for them was the fact that they were located close to Paddington Train Station as well as close walking distance to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens. Then again, so are a vast number of other hotels in that area- you should look into any one of those other hotels rather than Abbey Court!

Do not let the exterior facade of Abbey Court deceive you,  it looks so lovely on the outside…

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We’ve already discussed the attitude and general behavior of the staff, so no need to rehash that. We’ve already accepted that it’s London, should we really expect much more from an inexpensive hotel in a crowded city providing desperately needed rooms for the massive numbers of tourists. But, lets just look at exactly what you find once you’ve taken your chance on that ohh so lovely facade of Abbey Court.  First of all, you get no key card- nope, you get an old fashioned key which you have to turn into the front desk each and every time you leave the building. Ummm, one other thing to go along with that key and the door to your room… You get no door knob!

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You get a door latch that sticks, and once inside you kind of get the feeling you’ve been locked into your room/cell. 

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I understand that space is at a high premium in London, but really this room gave me a severe case of claustrophobia along with nightmares! If you feel you can deal with it, then by all means go for it- after all, you are in London and may not plan to spend much time in the room anyway…

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That’s it, that’s what you get for a room as opposed to say, what we got for the same approximate price at a Travel Lodge in Dublin? Actually, I think the room in Dublin cost much less than the one in London, but that is not really unexpected.

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My final observations on Abbey Court Hotel… WiFi is extremely limited free time and not very reliable- I suppose they want you to use it up quickly so you will pay for any additional required use. There is also no attached restaurant, well there is one connected to them but it is a separate entity and there is no room service available at all. They do offer some sort of breakfast downstairs in their basement but I was not up braving the cost or the quality of that experience. They do also offer some shuttle services to airports but when I checked on the price of shuttle to Gatwick, I realized it was far cheaper to just take the train from Paddington Station. 

Ok, I feel better now for having done what I feel is my traveler’s civic duty in forewarning you about my personal experiences with some fails. I did not give the name of the car rental agency because I will admit that part the issue with them was a serious lack of communication or understanding on all sides. We could have made better choices about that situation so we do take some partial responsibility for that failure.

This was just a brief overview of the tour. In upcoming posts, I will share our experiences and thoughts on each individual city that we visited as well as some additional information on dealing with the trains and buses in each area. 

Upcoming city posts: Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Cardiff, London, Dublin