HAGGiS Adventures Compass Buster Tour: Day 2 – Stornoway and Lews Castle

After exploring Dun Carloway Broch and the Callanish Stones, we got back to Stornoway in the late afternoon so we could enjoy the city and do a little bit of exploring!

Greg told us that if we wanted, we could take a hike up to Lews Castle and explore its grounds. We decided this was the best option and once we cleaned up, we were on our way.

It was a beautiful walk up to the castle! We had to go through a forest of trees that seemed very mystical, a usual occurrence in Scotland!

Lews Castle was built in the years 1844-51 as a country house for Sir James Matheson. It is a Victorian style castle, as you can see below.

“In 1918, the Lewis estate including the castle was bought by industrialist Lord Leverhulme from the Matheson family. He gave the castle to the people of Stornoway parish in 1923.” – Wikipedia

The Lews Castle website tells us that the early history of the grounds date back to 1680 when Seaforth Lodge was built as a summer home for Lord Seaforth.

The castle has an extensive history having been passed down through the decades. It went from being held by the Stornoway Trust as a public building, to a hospital in World War II, to being a college to being completely vacated and unused by 2002.

By 2012, funding had been secured to restore the castle, with work commencing in 2013. Whilst we were in Stornoway in 2015, the building was unfortunately still closed for restoration, so we did not have the chance to take a peek inside. Lews Castle, along with the new museum and archive, reopened in July 2016 to visitors.

The castle grounds are quite extensive – at around 10 acres. We were literally exploring all the hidden pathways and trails while coming across beautiful views and fascinating statues! You would come to a clearing and see a view like this – looking out over the waters.

While exploring, we also came across a wonderful memorial built in honour of James Matheson by his wife. The poppies on the pillars allude to his success and profits from the opium industry. It is beautifully sculpted, although missing certain parts due to age.

As we walked down and towards the harbour, we noticed the beautiful views of Stornoway that we had also seen from above.

Stornoway was originally founded by the Vikings in the early 9th century!

“This town, and what eventually became its present-day version, grew up around a sheltered natural harbour well placed at a central point on the island, for the convenience of people from all over the island.” – Wikipedia

“At some point in the mid 1500s, the already ancient MacLeod castle in Stornoway ‘fell victim to the cannons of the Duke of Argyle’.”

It was as early as the 1600’s that Stornoway became a centre for trade because of its port location.

Today, the harbour still hosts a fishing fleet, although obviously not as large as in the past!

Our walk along the harbour and later around the city was lovely! We literally sat by the harbour and soaked in the September Scottish sunshine, whilst looking out at the beautiful water.

Stornoway is a wonderful little town full of winding streets and quaint stores. We were lucky that we got an afternoon to actually explore and enjoy it.

We definitely recommend staying in Stornoway if you are planning to travel around the Isle of Lewis. It is central and you are surrounded by amenities!

After we finished our walk, we headed back to our hostel for dinner. We had a pizza night with our entire group! What a lovely evening we had chatting with our group mates and getting to know each other. There also may or may not have been some ruthless card games with beverages on the line! All in all, it was a great way to cap off a wonderful Day 2!

What’s in store for Day 3? We’re excited just writing about it! Are you ready to be amazed by the faerie pools?! And get ready to meet some new and fashionably hairy friends! Brace yourselves for our next post!

Stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

 

Reykjavik Walking Tour with CityWalk

After an early check in at our hotel – Icelandair Reykjavik Natura at around 9am, we were just too exhausted from our day of travel that we needed a wee nap. Especially since we had a walking tour of Reykjavik coming up later on at 2:30pm.

After a bit of rest, we were ready to get to know Reykjavik! We always like doing a walking tour when we get into a new city. It helps us get our bearings, find out what we want to see and also to get to know the city from a local guide.

Since our hotel was about a 30 minute walk from the city centre and since we were still a bit weary, we took the city bus in. Once we arrived at Hlemmur Square, we saw that we were still a bit early, so we wandered down by the waterfront before making our way to the walking tour meeting spot.

Reykjavik showed off for us this afternoon, in glorious but cold sunshine!

On our ramble, we spotted a well-known piece of artwork. This is the Sun Voyager, or Sólfar. It is reported to be “a dreamboat, an ode to the Sun and dream of hope, progress and freedom.” It is a very striking sculpture. I found it very stirring – one because we are travelling right now and two because of all the changes that are happening in the world.

Continuing on along Sæbraut, we came upon another Reykjavik landmark – Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Centre.

What a building!

We loved this building, with the many glass panels of its facade. On this particular day, the glass panels reflected the beautiful sun and clouds in the sky. One of our guides later told us that sometimes they turn the glass panels into a display of the Northern Lights!

It was also a chilly day, so we sought shelter inside to warm up before continuing on and heading to the tour’s meeting spot.

We signed up for the ‘free’ classic walking tour with CityWalk. This is a similar concept to the SANDEMANs New Europe Tours that we have done previously in Dublin and Edinburgh. The tour through CityWalk is free and at the end of the tour, you pay what you feel is fitting for the tour. Reservations are required and all of the information can be found on their website, along with the other tours that they operate.

We arrived at the House of Parliament and met up with our guide for the afternoon – Marteinn. The group had about 20 people or so and once we were all accounted for, we started learning about Iceland and Reykjavik. We got the “winter” version of the tour because of the cold weather, skipping a couple of stops and having a few stops indoors to warm up!

We won’t say too much about each location or the history because it really is much better to experience it yourself than getting it from us! 😋

But we will share some photographs and our thoughts on the tour!

I really enjoyed learning about the history and culture of Iceland and its capital Reykjavik. CityWalk states that their walks are led by a local and history graduate. And that was evident in the information and interest shown by Marteinn. We touched on the history of Iceland, the Vikings, Iceland’s independence, the varied landscapes of this country and… the fact that Iceland is the most peaceful country in the world – having no army, navy or air force. You can walk right up to the Parliament house – there are no armed soldiers guarding it. And in this day and age, that really is something to be proud of! Besides just a history lesson, Marteinn also touched on some more current and possibly controversial topics – Iceland’s stance on women’s rights and gender equality, the homogenous nature of the Icelandic population (even now in 2017) and… the most common website viewed on Sunday mornings to make sure the object of affection you met that Saturday night isn’t related to you! And since we were tourists in Iceland, we also discussed the newly booming tourism industry and how tourism is changing the face and feel of the city and country.

Overall, it was a good introduction to both Reykjavik and Iceland. We got to ses and know some city landmarks and that would later help us to navigate around this city! We would definitely recommend this tour for any first time visitors to Reykjavik ☺️.

After the walking tour, we headed back to our hotel for an early night.

Stay tuned for our next post – our first adventure outside of Reykjavik!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

A Walk Through Edinburgh

After our visit to Edinburgh Castle, we wandered down the Royal Mile for our next adventure – a walking tour of Edinburgh.

We always like doing a walking tour when we are in a new city. We feel it gives us a good chance to get our bearings and get familiar with the city. We also get an idea of what attractions or locations we want to explore more of and visit on our own. And which ones we are ok with just seeing on the outside and taking a photograph. Doing a walking tour also allows us to chat with the guide and maybe get some tips on sightseeing, restaurants, pubs and the local area.

We went with SANDEMANs New Europe tours and took their “Free Tour of Edinburgh.” This company operates tours in many European cities – we did a tour with them in Dublin and I’ve also done their tours in London and Paris. Their tours are “free” in the sense that you don’t pay upfront. Instead, at the end, you pay what you think the tour was worth. SANDEMANs also runs several other tours in Edinburgh, like their Edinburgh Castle Tours and Pub Crawls. Check out their website for more details and the meeting times of the various tours.

The Free Tour of Edinburgh meets right on the Royal Mile/High Street – at the Starbucks by the Tron Kirk. You’ll know you’ve come to the right place when you see the red umbrella and the crowd gathering around.

Walking Tour Tip: Make sure you wear comfortable walking shoes – it’s not a strenuous walk by any means, but you are walking for around 2.5 hours! Since we explored Edinburgh Castle earlier this morning, we already had our walking shoes on. So we wandered down to the Starbucks and the red umbrella for the 2pm walking tour!

Once the groups and languages (there were also tours in Spanish) were sorted out, we headed out with our group and our guide – Greg. He was, as he described himself, “the quintessential Scottish stereotype – a big, bearded, bellowing flame-haired highlander with a love of tales and a flare for the dramatic.” He definitely had a flare for the dramatic and told us many tales of Edinburgh and Scotland in an animated and engaging manner, which kept us interested, amused and entertained for the entire 2.5 hr walking tour.

We won’t say too much because you really should visit Edinburgh for yourself! 😏 But we will share some of our favourite photographs and let them tell the story – like an Edinburgh Photo Walk. We will also say that we particularly loved the architecture of Edinburgh – so full of character and history!

Here is St. Giles’ Cathedral. We didn’t have the chance to go inside on this trip, but we enjoyed admiring the outside of the beautiful cathedral – especially the intricate details on the windows and the archways.

Reminded me of the phrase – “Playing Devil’s Advocate”

Lady Stair’s Close and The Scottish Writers’ Museum – another attraction that we only saw from the outside this time around. We might have to add it to the list for our next visit to Edinburgh!

The Hub, in the background, on the Royal Mile.

We took a lane that branched off the Royal Mile and ended up here – overlooking Victoria Street.

I love this view of Victoria street and of the city from way up here! All these tall and narrow buildings have so much character… Imagine everything that these bricks have seen!

After the little detour to see Victoria Street, we ended up walking past our hostel and gazing up at Edinburgh Castle again. Earlier today, we looked down from the castle. Now, we were looking up at the Castle, which sits on top of a GREAT rock, which you can absolutely see in this photograph here!

George Heriot’s School – a private (independent) school which is said to be the inspiration behind Hogwarts! (More on Edinburgh and the Harry Potter connection later!)

After walking through Grassmarket and hearing some stories about public executions and hangings (google the story of Maggie Dickson), we headed to the Grassmarket Café (part of the Grassmarket Community Project) for a break and some treats!

After the much needed break, we headed towards our last destination – the area around Greyfriars Kirkyard.

One of the most famous residents of Greyfriars Kirkyard is Greyfriars Bobby. Bobby was a Skye Terrier, who was so loyal to his master John Gray – that after Gray’s death, Bobby spent the rest of his life (14 years!) standing guard at his former master’s grave. Not even the wind, rain or multiple evictions from the cemetery could keep Bobby away from his master.  His story of loyalty and devotion is one that inspired a lot of people, leading to the creation of a statue, monument, books, movies and even a pub.

The monument and statue of Bobby on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge.

There’s even a pub named after Greyfriars Bobby.

Entering Greyfriars cemetery and kirk (church)…

Although Bobby couldn’t not be buried inside the cemetery with his master John Gray, he is buried just inside the gates of Greyfriars Kirk. A very inspirational inscription – “Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all” is engraved onto the gravestone in memory of Greyfriars Bobby.

We were told that people sometimes leave sticks and toys for Greyfriars Bobby to play with!

Greg gave us a brief tour of the cemetery and we heard some stories about the individuals who rest here.

After walking through Greyfriars Kirk, we headed towards the National Museum of Scotland, where our tour ended and we unfortunately had to say goodbye to Greg. We really enjoyed getting to know Edinburgh with Greg. He was very animated, entertaining, knowledgeable and definitely passionate about Scotland! And it just got us more excited about exploring Edinburgh and Scotland in the upcoming days!

After the walking tour, we actually backtracked to Greyfriars… Because there was one thing that we didn’t see up close when we were at the cemetery earlier.

We are Harry Potter fans and we know that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Edinburgh while writing some of the books there – the George Heriot’s school being the inspiration for Hogwarts, for example. It seems that some of the characters’ names also have an Edinburgh connection – Tom Riddell and Professor McGonagall in particular. Here is the grave of a Thomas Riddell, who is said to have inspired the name for Tom Riddell. And nearby is the grave of a William McGonagall, whose name is said to be the inspiration for Professor Minerva McGonagall.

After that Harry Potter connection, came another! We came upon the Elephant House. This is the cafe where J.K. Rowling wrote the early books in the series. Flocks of Potterheads flood this cafe daily to say that they’ve been to the coffee shop where J.K. Rowling created the magical world of Harry Potter. (Potterheads have apparently been writing so many messages in the loo that toilet seats have been broken from people standing on them to write on the walls/windows and the staff have given up trying to paint over the graffiti!) We didn’t go in – it was super packed and busy inside, we just didn’t feel like jostling with the crowd!

The Elephant House – where J.K. Rowling spent time writing her Harry Potter series!

The advertising outside the cafe…

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Our first day in Edinburgh wasn’t over just yet! Our next stop: The Real Mary King’s Close!

A “close” as we learned, is an alleyway that leads off the Royal Mile. Mary King’s Close, situated underground beneath the Royal Exchange/City Chambers, is particularly shrouded in myths and legends – stories of ghosts, spirits, murderers and plague victims who were locked away to die. Ioana wanted to check this out. I was a little hesitant and wary – being a HUGE scaredy cat with a wild imagination and definitely NOT a fan of horror films! But I figured if this tour is suitable for children as young as 5 years old, I could handle this!

We bought our tickets online and arrived at the Real Mary King’s Close at our scheduled time. We were taken on a tour of Mary King’s Close by a costumed character guide. Our guide was Mary King’s daughter – Jonet Nimmo, who led us around the area that she grew up in. We won’t spoil the tour for you but we enjoyed learning about the history of this close and a bit of Edinburgh history. We also got the chance to see how people lived back in the days – complete with laundry hanging out the windows of tall, “underground” buildings. There were a couple of scary stories, but it was bearable and I didn’t have any nightmares afterwards!

After the tour, we walked through the on-site restaurant – The Royal Exchange Coffee House. Unfortunately they were closed by that time but the menu of local and fresh food was so tempting that we decided to come back another time to try it out!

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We packed a lot into one day of sightseeing – with Edinburgh Castle in the morning, a walking tour in the afternoon and the Real Mary King’s Close in the early evening. We were pretty exhausted after all of this – plus we had only gotten a couple hours of interrupted sleep at Dublin Airport the night before! So we grabbed a quick dinner at a pub and headed back to our hostel to catch up on sleep!

Day 2 is up next with more adventures and exploring in Edinburgh – stay tuned!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie

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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!

First Stop: Dublin!

When we first started looking at travel destinations and eventually picked Ireland and Scotland, we booked our tours first. This meant we could plan around the tour dates and decide how many days we could have to explore other locations in both countries!

Since we booked our tours in December of 2014 (yes, we were very excited and determined to make this trip happen!), this also meant we had extra time to wait for a good flight deal to appear. We pretty much monitored flights through Google Flight Search on a daily basis waiting for an amazing deal to show up. Once we were close to February we thought it was time to book a flight since prices would only increase the closer we got to the date!

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En route to Dublin!

Luckily for us, one of our national carriers WestJet was having a seat sale! For around $650 (Canadian dollars) we booked our round trip flight to Dublin, from Vancouver. And from there, we would make our way to Scotland and back to Dublin for our return flight home. Seeing as it often costs $800+ just to fly over the pond from the West coast, we thought we got a pretty good deal! Anyone who is thinking of travelling to Ireland or Europe from either the East or West coast, you definitely should wait for a WestJet seat sale! The prices are affordable and you get there before you know it!

One downside was that we had 2 stop-overs, one in Toronto and the other in St. John’s, but they were direct connecting flights so there was no wait time! Another thing is that you might want to bring some snacks with you or be prepared to pay for your meals in the air or at the connecting airports. Unfortunately, no meals were included on any of the flights. They do provide complimentary beverage and snacks of crackers or cookies. But those will not last you 13+ hours! Tim Hortons is always a good option at Toronto Pearson Airport and it was our last taste of Canada before a month’s time away.

So…after 13+ hours, 2 stopovers, and lots of crackers and cookies, we made it to our first destination: DUBLIN!!!

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Our first glimpse of the Emerald Isle

Our Shamrocker tour (which we will talk about in a future post!) would be leaving from Dublin but would not give us any time to explore the city itself. We decided that we should give ourselves a few days in Dublin before its start (3 days to be exact) and explore the capital city before embarking on an adventure and exploration of Ireland.

We landed in Dublin at 7am and were both exhausted but we already had our day planned and decided we would make the best of it!

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After we got our luggage, we had to make our way from Dublin Airport to Dublin City Centre. Right outside arrivals was the Airlink 747 Bus service that was a direct route to city centre. It cost €10 for a return ticket and took us very close to our hostel.

Speaking of our hostel, we booked the Barnacles Temple Bar House Hostel which was literally 2 doors down from the iconic Temple Bar! It ended up being an ideal place to stay – having clean rooms, a great kitchen, free breakfast, free WiFi and plugs and light beside each bed (a big plus, as we would find out later on in our travels). We chose it because of its great reviews on Hostelworld and also because of its close proximity to where our Shamrocker tour would be leaving from. It would be an early start that morning, so we wanted to be as close to the pick up location as possible. We definitely recommend this for anyone doing any tours from inside a busy and cobblestoned city such as Dublin – pulling luggage on cobblestones isn’t an easy feat.

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Iconic Temple Bar

So what was our first impression of Dublin? Well to be honest, the first thing we saw was a truck carrying about a dozen kegs of Guinness… That’s when we knew our adventures in Ireland would definitely be memorable! Dublin has an old world charm that many cities lose once moving into the modern world. Its low rise buildings, cobblestoned streets, and lively animated people won us over right away.


After dropping off our bags, we decided to explore a little at our leisure before heading to our walking tour. We felt the best way to get the most out of sightseeing was to do a walking tour. Fortunately for us, after doing some research, we discovered that there is a great walking tour company that does tours for “free” in both Dublin and Edinburgh. Sandemans offers guided tours of Dublin in multiple languages and at different times throughout the day!

Dublin Castle

We originally planned to take a later tour at 2pm but as we were wandering around, we stumbled across the 11am tour getting ready and decided to take it! A big positive of these walking tours is that you can either book it online or you can just show up and join a group! The tour is very flexible and gives the guide the chance to take you to places they personally believe were important for you to see, as well as the touristy sights that you would visit anyways.

In our case, our tour guide Connor (a very animated Irish fellow with some clear acting skills), took us on a 3+ hour tour of Dublin hitting up locations such as:

  • Dublin Castle
  • Trinity College
  • Temple Bar
  • The Spire of Dublin
  • Whelan’s Pub (The site for the P.S I Love You movie scene)
  • Dublin City Hall
  • Christ Church Cathedral
  • and many more!

The tour was filled with historical information about some sites, like the Viking Village under Dublin City Hall, and some pretty funny stories regarding U2 and the Queen! We won’t share any here because you definitely have to visit and take the tour yourself to get the full experience 😉

The alley off Ship Street – where they filmed parts of P.S. I Love You and also where all the women on the tour got a little starry-eyed and sighed in contentment.

Halfway through the tour, there is some advertising for their other fee-based tours – for example a day trip to Howth and their pub crawls. Then you are given a short 15 minute break and it was here that we discovered The Joy of Cha. This quaint little cafe tucked in on East Essex St. in Temple Bar, supplied us with the best Focaccia either of us had ever eaten! Its home made goodies and delicious drinks definitely made us go back more than once on our trip. It is a definite recommendation for anyone looking for an easy-on-the-budget but delicious lunch or snack spot in Dublin.

Trinity College

After the delicious and cheesy Focaccia was savoured, the last leg of our tour went by quickly and at last our guide took us to Trinity College and told us more stories about the College itself and the amazing perks that come with taking some crazy exams and passing them!

It was at this point that our guide told us about giving him a “tip” if we enjoyed the tour. Yes, the tour is in itself is “free” seeing as it is optional to pay, but obviously you feel that you need to compensate your guide for taking you around for 3+ hours! You decide how much you want to give based on your experience and nobody thinks the lesser of you!

It was an overall informative tour, allowing us to get our bearings in Dublin and showing us the sights that we wanted to return to later on! After the tour ended, we were definitely tired so we decided to go back to the hostel and have a good rest before dinner.

For dinner, we were determined to find a good pub with live music and Guinness!!! Connor, our guide from the walking tour, did not recommend going to Temple Bar as it is overpriced and touristy. It is definitely not a place to meet locals and pints of Guinness were about 7 Euros. Any Dubliner knows that you should not pay more than 5 Euros at most for a pint! Although Temple Bar was tempting, seeing as it was so lively at night and full of people, we decided to venture further and find a place that wasn’t over priced and full to the brim! Even at night Dublin was beautiful. While searching for a place to eat, we couldn’t help but take some amazing photos of Dublin at night!

Dublin in the early evening

It was then that we found The Old Storehouse on Crown Alley. It is about a block from Temple Bar and it was amazing! It’s true that the party only starts in Dublin after 9 pm, usually because that’s when the live music starts! But first, we had to strike something off our Irish bucket list, and that was to order our first (of many) pint of Guinness in Ireland! It was…everything I hoped it would be! I was a Guinness virgin, so for me this was my first time tasting such a dark brew. But I was told that the Guinness in Canada is definitely not the same as the Guinness from its homeland. And this is 100% true.

Had to try the Guinness!

After we came home, I got a taste of the Guinness in Vancouver and I could tell the difference immediately. (And the pouring technique also left much to be desired.) I don’t know if it’s the transport that changes the taste or just the fact that you need to be in Ireland to drink a Guinness, but I know for sure that Guinness will be the drink I’ll save purely for drinking in Ireland!

The food at The Old Storehouse was also delicious. We, of course, started our dinners in Ireland with a hefty portion of Fish and Chips!

Good food, Guinness and fun atmosphere – what more can you ask for!

For such a huge portion, we paid under €15 for a dinner meal AND we had succeeded and gotten the Guinness for €5! So this is another definite go-to pub for any tourist! Good food for a good price and on top of that, a great atmosphere to enjoy!

So, the food and Guinness were delicious, the atmosphere was lively and amazing, all that was left was the live music. In Vancouver, there are very few places you can get a meal and good quality entertainment for free. While in Ireland we took every opportunity to listen to live music! Lucky for us, music was not lacking in any pub that we went to. (There was one exception but it comes with a funny story and a happy ending.) The music for that night was a duo and they played traditional music as well as modern music with a Irish twist! It was so entertaining we didn’t want to leave.

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Live music at the Old Storehouse

We spent most of our evening at The Old Storehouse and there ended our first, amazing day in Dublin! We saw so much and had barely touched the tip of the iceberg! There was so much more to see that we could barely wait for day 2 and the adventures it would bring!

From Vancouver with Love,

Ioana and Natalie
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© Letters of Wanderlust, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of any written material and/or photographs without express and written permission from this site’s authors is strictly prohibited. Please get in touch if you would like to republish any of our materials or if you would like to work on a project together!