Jan 22nd
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Home Travel Guide Travel Guide Topics Jaunts around Europe Jaunts around England & Scotland

Jaunts around England & Scotland

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Jaunts around Europe
. . . exploring England and Scotland

    In October 2000, my husband Andrew, a Brit, and I moved back to England after 12 years in the U.S., so that our two sons could grow up knowing their English family. We had found – and bought – a house on the Internet, and Andrew had accepted a UK job with his company, and we were ready to roll.
    We bought a house at South Hill located in the picturesque Berkshire village of Sonning, about an hour west of London. The house was originally two 18th century farm cottages, which were joined together and added onto during the early and late Victorian period, and again in the 1970s.


    You’d think that we would never want to leave our new home but we made a promise that we would try to visit a different European country every year. We started last year with a 10-day trip to Scotland.
    As usual, we went the self-catering route, and found historic Loanfoot Cottage, located on the grounds of the Mountquhanie Estate near Cupar. Cupar is in the area of Fife, located about an hour north of Edinburgh and 20 minutes west of St. Andrews, the ancestral home of golf. Prince William also attends school here.
    Loanfoot Cottage is available for rent from St Andrews Country Cottages (, which is owned by the Wedderburn family. Generations of the family have lived on the estate for 400 years. The property is littered with reminders of the area’s history. From the front door of our cottage, we saw the ruins of what looked like a small castle.
    The house was child-friendly with an enclosed garden, a swing, and a sandpit plus modern amenities. There were plenty of good walks around the area so Andrew and our two boys, Morgan (7) and Duncan (4) explored the area
at length. On most days, we headed for local attractions – we visited the small  St Andrews Aquarium, but we were more impressed with Deep Sea World (www.deepseaworld. com) in North Queensferry, just north of Edinburgh. The aquarium features a piranha exhibit, collections of sand tiger sharks and poisonous frogs, and a misty, humid section on rainforests.
    Just five miles from Loanfoot cottage we found the Scottish Deer Park, which featured not only nine species of deer, but also bird of prey display. Morgan and Duncan thoroughly enjoyed having their photos taken next to the birds. The park also had a huge indoor play area, an even bigger outdoor adventure area, a good restaurant, and marvelous gift shops selling everything from venison products to wonderful woolens and Scottish souvenirs.
    The east coast of Fife offers picturesque hamlets, scenic harbors, windswept stretches of unspoiled beach, and smaller, relatively uncrowded friendly beaches such as Elie. The boys found starfish and crabs here and made friends with a family from France. Gregarious 7-year-old Duncan was in heaven.
    A highlight for 4-year-old Morgan was the William Wallace Memorial Tower, which is located on a hillside near Stirling, a two-hour drive west of Edinburgh. William Wallace was the Scottish rebel depicted in Mel Gibson’s film, Braveheart, and evidence of Wallace’s status as a national hero is found all over Scotland. You can reach the impressive tower by taking a heart-pounding uphill stroll, or an easy bus ride. The exhibits are located in rooms off the tower’s central spiral staircase (a great way to meet other tourists), and the highlight is Wallace’s magnificent five-and-a-half-foot sword. If you can make it to the top of the tower, you are rewarded by breathtaking views of Stirling Castle and the Scottish countryside. (For enquires, call 01786-472140)
    Scotland is a long one-day drive, or a comfortable two-day drive from London, if you want to take a direct route. If time allows however, take a couple of extra days to visit England’s magnificent Lake District on the way.

Weekend in Dorset

    Because Britain is a small island, with a relatively large population, we find that every area has much to offer, and that attractions and accommodations are child-friendly. At the end of January, eight of us rented Taphouse Farmhouse in the Dorset countryside, about four hours southwest of London. We rented the farmhouse through Cardsmill Farm Holidays (www., and paid a bargain off-season rate of £265 for a three-day weekend. Our cottage was near the tiny hamlet of Whitchurch Canonicorum, about 10 miles from the coastal town of Lyme Regis, where Meryl Streep stood on the windswept Cobb in The French Lieutenant’s Woman.There were howling gales and horizontal rain, but the farmhouse featured a barn that had been converted into a game room, with a skittle alley, darts, table tennis and snooker. This kept the children and the watching cows happily occupied when we weren’t able to go out. We were near the coastal village of Charmouth, which is famous for its fossil beach, so we spent a couple of windy hours on the beach looking for fossils – with some success. The nearby towns of Weymouth and Bournemouth also have plenty to offer, and the area is Thomas Hardy country (Wessex), and features plenty of reminders of his life and work.

Day Trips

    In early March, we visited the Cotswold Wildlife Park (, about 20 miles west of Oxford, where a Gothic-style mansion built in the early 1800s is the centerpoint of a small but eclectic zoo. The zoo features animals ranging from rhino and leopards to monkeys and emus, and also has a small insect house, a bat house, and a reptile house. There’s also a train, which officially runs from April until November, but was in full puff at the beginning of March.
    We also discovered the Buckinghamshire County Museum ( /tourism/museum), in Aylesbury located about 20 miles northeast of Oxford, which features the magical Roald Dahl gallery, a hands-on children’s discovery museum with all the exhibits based on characters from Roald Dahl’s childrens’ books.  You need to book ahead, and you are allowed an hour in the museum, but we found that to be sufficient for our two youngsters. A gift shop offers Dahl’s entire collection of children’s books for sale. The County Museum itself is also child-friendly and has numerous hands-on exhibits.
    With more vacations coming up, I’m sure that Andrew, the boys and I will make more exciting discoveries in this area of England.

    Our planned August trip to northern Provence and the Dordogne valley in France will reveal many delights for the whole family. Stay tuned…

-- Marjorie Thorne


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