Dolphin spotting with Captain Casper the sea dog! 

From Scotland with the Wee White Dug, a tale of adventures in the Highlands, including the Pump Room and Spa Exhibition in Strathpeffer, a view of Castle Leod (seat of Clan Mackenzie), the Touchstone Maze honoring Scotland’s historic sites, a Moray Firth cruise with Dolphin Spirit Inverness, enchanting music at Embrace Gifts shop along with wood carvings at Victorian Station, the Eagle Stone of The Pictish Trail, and more. Just further proof, as if we needed any, that your Scotland trip deserves quality time in Inverness-shire and at least a glimpse of the Northern Highlands.

Scotland with the Wee White Dug

Today I’m going to share with you an eclectic mix of Victorian spa town in the Scottish Highlands and a dolphin spotting adventure on the Moray Firth.

Last Saturday after an early breakfast at our B&B near Portmahomack, we set off along the NC500 route between Tain and Dingwall to make the 34 mile journey to Strathpeffer. Strathpeffer lies a few miles west of Dingwall.

The village sits in a wide mountain valley or strath. Leafy, and surrounded by mountains it has the look of an Alpine village to it.

Arriving in Strathpeffer is like stepping back in time. The Victorians have left an instantly recognisable imprint on the architecture of the village. You half expect to see elegantly dressed ladies, strolling down the street on the arm of top hatted gents with mutton-chop whiskers.

The Victorian Station

When we arrived at the station a cute little shop calledEmbrace…

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Book Review: Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain

I decided to skip my five phrases for this Friday the 13th, not out of superstition but just because I have a lot on my plate at the moment. Late last night, I finished reading a travel guide I’ve reviewed for this post, and I’m still working on my Outlander STARZ Season 2 reviews. Beyond that, the flower pots and beds, spring cleaning, my novel, the book club book, and my home office clean-up project all continue to beckon. We who work from home must remember to travel outside the house and outside those beloved books, so in that spirit, after this, I’m off to the garden center.


Book Review

Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain: With the Best of England, Scotland & Wales (2015)

BookCover_FodorsEssentialGreatBritainReview in Brief

Inspired largely by my Outlander obsession and by my English teaching and literature background, I’ve determined to take my first trip to the UK with my husband soon.

Snagged by me two months ago at the book store, this comprehensive Great Britain travel guide for England, Scotland, and Wales contains a helpful mixture of features and a layout of short text segments throughout for quick reference and easy reading. Numerous listings for sights, lodging, dining, shopping, and night life include starred “Fodor’s Choice” recommendations for their opinions of the most worthwhile experiences, as well as labels such as “Family” to point out good options for children.

A key at the front indicates the clear symbols used to label different types of establishments, map elements, and important associated notes. With its few and minor shortcomings in content, structure, and format, I can recommend this guide to most travellers.

Countries’ Coverage

One thing that threw me at first was the lack of an opening section page for Scotland; the Wales section precedes the “Edinburgh” chapter and the rest of the Scottish focus areas. However, the England section also lacks an “England” label page, starting right at London–why waste precious manuscript real estate?

The order of presentation is England, Wales, Scotland, and they make up about 58, seven-tenths, and 35 percent of the book, respectively. In the Great Britain introductory section, there is a proportional list of top attractions, including 6 for England, 1 for Wales, and 3 for Scotland. My family’s decision to skip Wales for this upcoming trip reflects this distribution. (Castles are the main Welsh draw, and you can see lots of those in England and especially in Scotland.)

The Writing

A group of 10 British writers all have written clearly and in entertaining ways without distracting from the content. The text also demonstrates good editing. Special terminology, i.e., Briticisms, are usually pointed out in helpful ways, though sometimes acronyms and other words appear without identification on first instances, such as for “V.A.T” (Value Added Tax). That term is explained several pages later, but it appears in neither the index nor a glossary, an absent element that could be helpful. I detected only a few typographical errors in this large book and none that impeded understanding.

Arrangement of Parts

The opening chapter is an extensive orientation to Great Britain overall. Chapters are then divided by region or major metropolitan area. An overview spread beginning each chapter presents a highlight picture or two, “Top Reasons to Go” blurbs that highlight a mixture of sights and types of experiences, a zoomed-out map of the area with main segments labeled and described, and a smaller map of the entire nation with the featured section highlighted in orange. A navigational “Getting Oriented” column of text lines the far right-hand side.

Inspiring Highlights

Introductions to each chapter follow the overview spread and precede specific listings with varied descriptive text that does a laudable job of making the reader want to see absolutely everything at first. There are also regional and city-center maps interspersed among listings; sidebars and feature pages on topics such as “In Search of Jane Austen,” “Close Up: Clans and Tartans,” and “The Beatles and Liverpool”; as well as photographs and shorter sidebar blurbs about open-air markets, local legends, and more. Special sections about travel tips, specific cultural elements, and highlights of sights not to miss populate the front and back matter.

Other Features

A thick, somewhat heavy paperback book, it might be more practical during travel as a spiral-bound guide. I found the font size and sans-serif type easy to read, but I would have liked a bonus map or two with more detail. In addition, regional maps do not show overlap where regions connect, and some maps fail to show distinctive topography highlighted in the text, such as Loch Awe (in western Scottish Argyll) on the region’s main introductory map. However, there is a tear-out map of London included inside the back flap, and there are oodles of website references, along with a sights-focused index and table of contents.

The Literary Approach

After a brief flip through the book, I started to comb the chapters with the express purpose of identifying literary sights in England and Scotland. I was able to make a preliminary list of places to target in our travels, which means, in England:

  1. Bronte sisters country in Yorkshire
  2. Romantic poet Wordsworth’s homes in the Lake District
  3. Jane Austen country in Hampshire (Bath, Chawton, Winchester, Lyme Regis)
  4. numerous places in London such as Virginia Woolf’s Bloomsbury
  5. Oxford University (Lewis Carroll, W.H. Auden, Percy Shelley, Oscar Wilde, etc.)
  6. Stratford-upon-Avon and Southwark (London) for Shakespeare
  7. Canterbury for Chaucer and Dickens
  8. Cornwall for Woolf, Tennyson, du Maurier, Doyle, Christie, and Arthurian legend

Prominent Scottish writers and stories with sights to match include Sir Walter Scott (Ivanhoe, historical though unofficial tourism ambassador for Scotland), poet Robert Burns (in Dumfries), and as many Outlander filming locations and book references as possible.

While still in the England portion of the guide, my approach quickly morphed into aiming for arts, nature, and literature sights, as reflected in my blog focus. I’ll be more interested in parks, landscapes, seascapes, other bodies of water, country estates, and the countryside than in most urban attractions.

Obviously, that doesn’t leave much time for, well, anything else, to say nothing of my husband’s interests that lean more toward soccer, pubs, castles, technology, and industry. Although I have a decent handle on art and theater attractions, I barely scratched the surface concerning music-related sights.

If only I could somehow take my own trip for travel writing or scholarly research. Hmm…. It became apparent quite early in this process that visiting Ireland would have to be a separate trip as well. For that matter, the same could be said of London.

Conclusions

Although I began reading Fodor’s Travel Essential Great Britain: With the Best of England, Scotland & Wales in the hopes of identifying key places I’d like to visit, reaching the end of the book has only made choosing more difficult, which is both good and bad for the guide, and definitely excellent for the UK. There is just so very much to see and do!

While brimming with sound advice, tips, and orienting elements, it seems this text alone will not be the deciding factor in our ultimate itinerary. I am inclined, for example, to compare other guides and consult a travel agency for help.

I will also have to see how useful the guide is in practice and on location before finalizing my rating for it.

Good Luck and Happy Travels!

Five-Phrase Friday (30): British Invasion

Now that St. Patrick’s Day is over, and you’re ready for some post-hangover learning, bring on the Brits!

Relations between Great Britain (UK) and the United States have been described as being between “two societies separated by a common language,” implying the difficulties we have in understanding each other when using the same words (homonyms) that have different meanings on either side of the pond.

Even agreement over the word “English” can be a tricky proposition. There’s American English (we’ll set aside its diversity for now), British English, Irish English, Scots English, Welsh English, and many more in between. It is debatable, I suppose, to call Geordie a form of British English, but references call it a dialect. Whichever “dialect,” or version, you consider to be true “English English” or “proper English” may inevitably depend upon which one you speak.

One way or another, though, as I said in post 28, ultimately it comes down to communication and common understanding. If we are to bring an attitude of respect to each other’s lands, then efforts toward this common understanding are paramount.

As an American, Briticisms you might come across while preparing for a UK vacay, especially in London or other large cities, include:

  1. bespoke apparel (adj.) = custom-made clothes. This term frequently describes famed or historic high-end tailoring houses, department stores, and royal shops in London, England. For Americans, it seems to be simply a quaint, archaic adjective, if not utterly foreign. British fictional characters might use it, but surely not real people.
  2. an arcade (n.) = a shopping mall or plaza. It gets its name from the use of arches in the architecture of the building. Our most familiar use of this term in the States refers to the video game arcades of decades past. Example: Burlington Arcade in London.
  3. a circus (n.) = a rounded open space in a town or city where several streets converge; a prime example: Piccadilly Circus. After all, it would be inaccurate to call it a square. The USA simply doesn’t have as many circular public spaces as the Old World does. (Brits have the other type of circus for entertainment as well.) Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/circus
  4. a parade (n.) = a public promenade, square or street of shops. Example: Horse Guards Parade, ” large parade ground off Whitehall in central London, England. . . . It is the site of the annual ceremonies of Trooping the Colour, which commemorates the monarch’s official birthday.” Again, another meaning is the event or activity of parading. Football (soccer) stadiums in England might also be named as some proprietor’s parade. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_Guards_Parade
  5. a hamper-style meal (n.) = In the UK, a hamper is “a basket or box containing food for a special occasion.” Although Americans might expect food to come out of the laundry, a hamper-style meal in Britain is similar to the American picnic basket or boxed lunch. A portable repast. Source: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/hamper

COVERLONDONGUIDEPRINT

I drew my inspiration from the writing style and examples in the special-issue magazine London 2016 Guide, published by The Chelsea Magazine Company Ltd and sponsored by Britain Magazine.

The guide is a useful collection of up-to-the-moment tips and insights for tourists of England’s capital this year. The art is high quality and enticing, and its advertisements reveal hidden treasures and specialized interests that may not have made the top lists featured in “Capital Views” or “101 Days Out,” which presents site lists based on theme. I particularly appreciated the “Literature Lovers” section on page 80 of that article. I’ve been enjoying my perusal of the guide as my husband and I plan our UK jaunt.

If you’ve been reading my other posts, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of the Outlander books and TV series, which is one of the major sparks for our planning this trip–Scotland. However, I figured, lest I get carried away booking Scottish stops, as an English teacher, I had better remember and learn more about the many reasons for visiting England. As I’ve been doing that, I’m wishing we only had more time to cover it all. It’s looking as though we’ll have to skip Ireland (sorry St. Paddy! and Mom) and Wales altogether for this, our first-ever trip to the United Kingdom.

By the way, if you missed all the fun with puns, see last week’s post or the small-town slogans in Five-Phrase Friday (7).