Weekend getaway on the Georgia Coast

Of the eight large barrier islands off the coast of Georgia, only four can be accessed by a bridge. Sapelo Island is one of the islands can only be reached by water and visiting it has been on my bucket list for years.

Sapelo is the fourth largest Georgia barrier island. Most of the island is owned by the state of Georgia. The state owned portion of Sapelo is home to the RJ Reynolds Wildlife Management area on the north end of the island, the University of Georgia’s Marine Institute, and the Sapelo Island National Estuarine Research Reserve.

The remaining 434 acres is the privately owned community of Hog Hammock. Many of the 70 residents there are descendants of former African-American slaves. Today, some property owners live elsewhere and a few of the houses are managed as vacation rentals.

We spent Friday night in Darien so we wouldn’t have far to go for our early Saturday morning Saturday ferry. We enjoyed a delicious fried shrimp and crab cake dinner Friday night at Skippers Fish Camp on the Darien waterfront. During our after dinner walk beside the water we spied 3 baby alligators on the banks of the river and a manatee behind a shrimp boat.

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Darien Waterfront

On Saturday morning, it didn’t take long to get to  Sapelo Visitors Center from Darien. After purchasing our tickets for the Sapelo Ferry we learned a little about the history of the island from the interpretive displays and enjoyed the views from the deck.

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View from the Visitor’s Center on the mainland with Sapelo Island in the distance.

The ferry departed at 9:00, right on schedule. Pelicans were busy diving for fish as we made our way to the island.

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Ferry Boat on the mainland waiting to take passengers to Sapelo Island
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Georgia salt marsh viewed from the ferry to Sapelo
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Sapelo Lighthouse as seen from the ferry

Our guide Yvonne Grovner took us around the island in a small air conditioned van. Yvonne grew up on Sapelo in the Hog Hammock community and told us many interesting facts about the island. We went from paved roads to narrow dirt trails as we traveled around the island.

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Behavior Cemetery on Sapelo Island
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Tabby ruins on Sapelo Island, Georgia
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Reynolds Mansion on Sapelo Island, Georgia

We climbed the 77 steps to the top of the Sapelo Lighthouse.

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Sapelo Lighthouse, Georgia

Our last stop before returning to the mainland was Nanny Goat Beach. It was a Saturday and there were a few people enjoying the white sandy beach. Our guide told us sometimes on weekdays there is no one else there.

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Nanny Goat Beach, Sapelo Island, Georgia

If you are planning a visit to Sapelo Island, you must make reservations for the ferry in advance. Reservations are also needed to take the tour. If you would rather explore on your own, golf carts and bicycles are available for rent. A few homes are available for rent and group camping is available. Reynolds Mansion can also be rented by groups.

More information about visiting Sapelo Island can be found at Visitors Center – Sapelo Island

 

Our last days in Scotland

The drive from Inverness to our next destination, Aberdeen was not very far.  To get there all we had to do was stay on the same road through about 50 round-a-bouts. The drive took us through several pretty villages and beautiful countryside. We were in desperate need of a laundry so when I spotted a self serve launderette at a gas station we pulled over and washed clothes.

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When you run out of clean clothes while traveling in Scotland, you stop at a launderette at a gas station
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Somewhere between Inverness and Aberdeen
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Yellow fields, Scotland

The beautiful old trees and gardens surrounding the MacDonald Norwood Hall Hotel in Aberdeen made me feel like I was on a country estate. The hotel was once a private home and later converted to a hotel. Although it is supposedly haunted we didn’t see any ghosts. While we enjoyed a delicious dinner in the dining room there was a wedding going on in another part of the hotel.

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MacDonald Norwood Hall Hotel, Aberdeen, Scotland
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Beautiful gardens in Aberdeen

The next day was another short driving day. Before we left Aberdeen we were talking to the father of the groom from the wedding the night before. He lived near Aberdeen and gave me some insight about my Scottish ancestors who emigrated to America from the area. He also recommended we stop at Donnottar Castle on our way to Fife.

I’m so glad we took his advice. We ventured off the main road to visit the castle which sits on a cliff high above the North Sea. The fog made it really eerie.

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Donnottar Castle, Scotland
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Donnottar Castle, Scotland
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Donnottar Castle, Scotland

It was early afternoon when we arrived at Fernie Castle in Fife, our home for the night. We enjoyed having time to relax and enjoy the castle and the beautiful grounds. The castle was haunted but alas, we never saw a ghost there, either.

There are Highland Cows, a horse and goats on the grounds of Fernie Castle. One of the things on my bucket list for Scotland was to see a Highland Cow up close and personal so I thoroughly enjoyed watching them and taking lots of photos. Hamish was not shy and came over to see what I was doing while the Heather ignored me and kept on eating her grass. I fed Hamish some potatoes and other vegetables but when I tried to pet him he nudged me gently with one of his horns to let me know he didn’t like it.

We said good bye to Hamish, Heather and Fernie Castle and continued on to Edinburgh for our last two nights in Scotland. The city is built on hills with Edinburgh Castle at the end of the Royal Mile on top of one of the hills . The walk to the Royal Mile from our hotel was down steep stone stairs and through an alley. We spent a day and a half wandering along the Royal Mile.

We toured historic St. Giles Cathedral.

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St. Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Scotland

We took a self guided tour of Edinburgh Castle. We joined a small tour group and learned about the history of the castle as our guide led us to some of its most famous spots.

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Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
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Guard at Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
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Looking at the city from Edinburgh Castle

Our timing was perfect. There was a changing of the guard while we were there.

 

We had one last look at Edinburgh Castle as our taxi took us to the airport.

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As we rode in the taxi to the airport we had our last view of Edingburgh Castle

Good bye Scotland! I’ll never forget you!

 

A Day in the Scottish Highlands

Our small tour bus with Rabbie’s Tours departed Inverness early on a Saturday morning for a 12 hour tour across the Scottish Highlands. As we rode from place to place our guide Colin filled us in on Scottish history and folklore.

Soon after leaving Inverness we were riding along with views of Loch Ness to our left. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one on the bus who was searching for Nessie, more commonly known as the Loch Ness Monster.  We didn’t stop at Nessieland, a small theme park.

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Nessieland was just up the road, Lock Ness, Scotland

Our only stop on Loch Ness was at historic Urquhart Castle. The castle is undergoing some restoration and we did not tour it. It was our last chance to see Nessie and she wasn’t cooperating.

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Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness, Scotland

We had plenty of time to tour Eilean Donan Castle and enjoy the gorgeous setting.

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland near Kyle of Lochalsh
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View from the bridge at Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland
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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Most of the day was spent on the spectacular Isle of Skye. There are dramatic mountains and cliffs, charming seaside villages, and gorgeous scenery all around the island.

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Dramatic Cliffs, Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Henry was glad he wasn’t driving! Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Curvy roads around the Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Wow! We’re really here! Isle of Skye, Scotland

We stopped in the town of Portree for lunch and a view of the harbor.

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Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland
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Town of Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

A few people on the bus brought back some beer from the Isle of Skye Brewery.

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Isle of Skye Brewery, Scotland

Our last stop on the Isle of Skye was the town of Kyleakin. It was raining as we walked around the waterfront with a nice view of the the Skye Bridge and the Kyleakin Lighthouse.

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Skye Bridge, Scotland
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Kyleakin Lighthouse, Isle of Skye, Scotland

It rained most of the way back to Inverness. When we arrived in Inverness that Saturday night the restaurants and pubs were hopping with young people out on the town. We found a restaurant with no wait, had a quick supper and called it a night after a long but fantastic day.

 

Hello Scotland

It was really sad leaving beautiful Ireland but the time had come to move on to Scotland. We boarded the Stena SuperFast VII Ferry in Belfast for our 2 1/2 hour voyage to Cairnryan, Scotland. The ferry was huge with lounges, restaurants, and even free WiFi. The seas were calm and the sky was clear for the entire trip.

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On the Stena Superfast Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan, Scotland

As the ferry was passing by our first sighting of Scotland, we saw the Corsewall Lighthouse.

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We saw the Corsewall Lighthouse from the ferry

We picked up our rental car at the ferry dock and were soon traveling on Scotland’s roads on our way to Glasgow, our first destination.

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Another country, another rental car, more curvy roads. We have arrived in Scotland
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Scenic drive from the ferry to Glasgow, Scotland

Glasgow is a huge city, much bigger than I thought it would be and we only had one full day to explore. After a good night’s rest we enjoyed our first Full Scottish Breakfast before starting our sightseeing. Henry tried the haggis with eggs, I passed on the haggis. We set out on foot to explore the area around the hotel. Our wandering took us to the Museum of Modern Art, George Square and the Glasgow City Council Building.

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Wellington Statue at Museum of Modern Art, Glasgow, Scotland
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George Square with Glasgow City Council City Chambers Building in the background, Glasgow, Scotland
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Ceiling in Glasgow City Council Building

We decided the best way to see the highlights of Glasgow would be to take the Hop-On-Hop-Off Tour. The tour was about two hours around the city, making a few stops along the way. If you got off, you could get on another bus to continue the tour. The top deck of the red double decker buses were open and a guide pointed out places of interest as we went. The city is an interesting mix of old and new.

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Mural in Glasgow, Scotland
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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow, Scotland
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Italian Shopping District, Glasgow, Scotland
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Glasgow SSE Hydro concert, sporting, and special events arena
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The old and the new in Glasgow, Scotland

The next day our adventure was a ride from Glasgow to Inverness in our rental car. After a few wrong turns and a ride through the Glasgow suburbs the scenery got better and better as the day went on.

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On the road to Inverness, Scotland
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Snow in the Highlands, Scotland

Inverness is a much smaller city with the River Ness running right through the center of town and a castle at the top of a hill. The name Inverness means “mouth of the Ness”. We arrived early enough to take a walk beside the river.

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Inverness Castle, Scotland
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Faith, Hope and Charity statue in Inverness, Scotland
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River Ness, Inverness, Scotland
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River Ness, Inverness

Next up, a full day bus tour through the Scottish Highlands.

 

Northern Ireland

After we returned our rental car in Cork, we set out on foot for the train station carrying and rolling all our luggage with us. The ride was relaxing and I enjoyed watching the scenery go by.

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Train from Cork to Dublin

The next day we arrived in Belfast, Northern Ireland after another enjoyable train ride. After we were settled in our hotel we spent the afternoon visiting the Titanic Belfast. The Titanic was built and launched from Belfast. As we walked through the self guided tour we learned about the history of the boat industry in Belfast and about how the Titanic was constructed and built. In 1912 the Titanic left Belfast for what turned out to be a doomed first voyage.

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Titanic Experience Belfast, Northern Ireland
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Titanic Experience Belfast, Northern Ireland

After a big Irish breakfast the next morning we met our guide Emily and boarded a tour bus for an 8 hour tour. For most of the day we would be traveling beside the water on the scenic Causeway Coastal Route. Our first destination was the Giants Causeway.

Before arriving at the Giants Causeway our guide Emily told us two different theories about how the Giants Causeway was created. The first was scientific. The other was a tale about an Irish giant named Finn McCool and a Scottish giant named Benandonner. I like to think it was the giants who caused these unusual rock formations.

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Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Giants Causeway, Northern Ireland

The bus made a quick stop at Dunluce Castle for a photo op. For you Game of Thrones fans the castle is one of the film locations from the series.

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Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

The Bushmills Irish Whiskey Distillery was just down the road. There wasn’t enough time to take a tour but we did have time for a tasting.

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Bushmills Distillery, Northern Ireland
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That’s a lot of Irish Whiskey!

The scenery was stunning all along the Causeway Coastal Route.

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Coastal Causeway Route, Northern Ireland
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Fields of sheep were a common sight as we traveled each day. These are on the Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland

For those with no fear of heights and a taste for adventure, the Rope Bridge at Carrick-a-Rede is must do attraction. With my fear of heights I can’t walk on swinging bridges but I enjoyed the scenery from the trail and had fun watching everyone else walk across the bridge.

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The trail to the rope bridge was along these coastal cliffs
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Stunning cliffs at Carrick-a-Rede on the Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
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Henry on the rope bridge at Carrick-a-Rede on the Causeway Coastal Route

We discovered palm trees grow in Northern Ireland.

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Palm trees along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland

There was a quick stop at CarrickFergus Castle before returning to Belfast.

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Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland
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Boat harbor near Carrickfergus Castle in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

Our guide Emily was awesome. She was a wonderful storyteller and kept us entertained as she told us some magical tales and a bit of Irish history. She even sang for us.

Next up, we say goodbye to Ireland and hello to Scotland.