After a short stop in Paris (most of which was taken up by an ER visit) it was time to move on. The main reason we visited Paris was so that we could pick up our leased Renault that we’ll be driving all over Europe for the next 170 days.
Our objective was to make it to Inverness, Scotland in two days (which kind of sounds like a driving challenge that might appear on Top Gear). I got an early start the first day and went to pick up our Renault at Charles De Gaulle airport at 7am. Leaving our hotel a little before 6am the streets of Paris were empty.
I took a short trip on the metro then caught the RER to the airport then walked to the pick-up location.
The pick-up process was much quicker than I expected. I showed my passport at the desk and signed a couple of forms, then an attendant took me to our car and showed me the basic features (mostly how to operate the GPS). I climbed into the driver’s seat (which felt a little strange since I hadn’t been in a car in a couple of weeks) and pulled onto the highway.
Since the leasing company wanted over 100 Euros for each child booster seat we decided that I’d go buy car seats at the nearest Carrefour (the French equivalent of Wal-Mart). I located a store in the suburb of Goussainville and succeeded in acquiring three booster seats for under 100 Euros total. While I took care of that errand Annette and the kids were on their way to Goussainville by train (which involved a walk from the hotel, two metros and then the RER…they were troopers carrying their bags through it all). Beginning the road trip in the suburbs seemed a safer option than me driving back into central Paris to pick them up at the hotel.
Crossing the English Channel
Traveling by car from France to the UK requires crossing the English Channel and there are two main options – go through the Chunnel (by train) or take a ferry. The Chunnel option is a bit faster and more expensive. We opted for the ferry, mainly because we wanted to see the white cliffs of Dover.
We pulled up to the Calais ferry terminal and purchased tickets for the next crossing. The next stop was immigration, where we were stamped out of France and into the UK. We then proceeded to the loading area where we waited for a few minutes before pulling onto the ferry.
After making the crossing we resumed our drive on the left side of the road. Our intermediate destination was a hotel just outside of Birmingham and we made it there in time to have some dinner and a quick swim in the pool.
The second day of our road trip took us from England into Scotland. Near the border is Hadrian’s Wall, a Roman fortification built in the second century AD to keep out the rowdy Picts that occupied present-day Scotland.
There are several visitor centers where one can see the wall and the Roman forts that were built to guard it. We decided to visit the Birdoswald Roman Fort which has excellent interpretative exhibits for children.
After an educational visit to Hadrian’s wall, we pressed on into Scotland.
On the evening of our second day we made it to our home in Inverness during our stay, the Inverness Youth Hostel. Hostels are very accommodating for people of all ages and for families as well. We booked a private room with five bunk beds.
The next morning we decided to explore the town. The first stop was a cafe downtown where we had our first full Scottish breakfast complete with eggs, sausage, mushrooms, tomatoes, toast, haggis, black pudding and baked beans. The kids especially liked the baked beans for breakfast.
Later we decided to visit Whin Park, which had several excellent play areas for the kids to explore.
A short drive from Inverness along the famous Loch Ness is Urquhart Castle. Here the kids enjoyed stories of Nessie and learning about life in ancient times. They were particularly interested in the full size model of a trebuchet that would have been used to bring down the castle walls.
Sutherland and Beyond
After our stay in Inverness we continued northward, crossing into Sutherland county. It seems strange that Sutherland is situated in the northern part of the island until you learn that the place was named by Vikings. From their perspective, Sutherland was to the south of their territory.
The seat of Sutherland county is the majestic Dunrobin Castle. We stopped by to tour the castle and the grounds.
In the gardens there is a falconry display twice daily in the summer. The kids were enthralled by the demonstration as they learned about the different hunting styles of owls, hawks and falcons.
On the grounds is a fascinating museum with trophy animals hunted in the early 20th century, a large collection of Pictish stones and other interesting items. As an animal lover, the Intrepid Girl was not a fan of this museum or of the animal rugs they had around the castle.
Castle of Old Wick & John O’ Groats
As we made our way to the northernmost part of the island we made a quick stop at the Castle of Old Wick. Dating from the 1100s, it is one of Scotland’s oldest castles.
A short while later we made it to John O’ Groats at the northeastern point of Britian. This is the destination for travelers making the trek all the way across the island from Land’s End at the far southwestern tip.
On to Orkney!
Next we boarded a ferry that would take us to Orkney, our home for the next week. This would be a nice respite after being on the move so frequently since leaving Germany.
Check back soon to learn about our adventures in Orkney!