Blog Archive

Monday, November 15, 2021

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock England

 Blenheim Palace is one of those places we've been back to several times. It's a spectacular palace in Woodstock, not far from Oxford, on the far eastern edge of the Cotswolds. We first visited while our son Kenny was deployed in the spring of 2021.  We went back again after he returned in September and once again in November for the Christmas Market. Tickets are pay once for an annual pass, so it makes sense to go back again and again.  You can read more about the 300 year history of the palace here.    

David drove the big family van on the first trip. 

Everyone enjoys a road trip! 

The walkway up to the main entrance gate leading to The Orangery. 

The approach from the South Lawn. 

View of the Italian Gardens

A group-selfie from the Water Terraces. 

At the gate to The Great Court. 

The boys at the miniature village at the entrance to the Adventure Playgrounds.  

One of many water fountains on the grounds. 

The "Column of Victory" on the Great Avenue of Elms.

Atop the 134 foot column is a statue of the first Duke of Marlborough dressed as a Roman General.

At the gate to The Great Court. 

Inside the state rooms. This was the room where Winston Churchill was born. 

One of the lounge rooms that was decorated with tapestries

The Long Library at Blenheim Palace

This hall was the entire length of the palace and had a large pipe organ at the far end. This room was said to be the longest room in all of England at 180 feet and contains over 10,000 books!  A much better HDR 360 image with no guests can be seen at this link

Update from November 22 - The Christmas Lights and Market!

Monday, September 27, 2021

Manchester, UK

 On August 26, 2021, we stopped in Manchester for a brief over-night stay on our way back from Scotland. We got to meet up for lunch with a nephew at The Trafford Centre, which is a massive shopping center/theme park. The food court, shown in the photo below, was designed to look like a deck on a massive cruise ship. 

Food Court at The Trafford Centre

We stayed in the central business district of Manchester and did a fair amount of walking around. There are a lot of fantastic restaurants in Manchester including the Corn Exchange where they film the British TV show called Million Pound Menu, which is a reality competition for restaurant entrepreneurs. Sadly, we didn't have the time to try the so many good options.  The photo below shows some of the historic sidewalk dining at the Old Wellington and Sinclair's Oyster Bar which are in a part of town known as Shambles Square

Sidewalk dining at Shambles Square

Just around the corner from Shambles Square, is Manchester Cathedral. This church was celebrating it's 600th anniversary and was founded in 1421 as the St Mary's Church in Manchester. It has a rich history and while we were touring, they were rehearsing for a rock opera. 

Manchester Cathedral

Inside Manchester Cathedral

Now, recall that up in Scotland, I posted about the popularity of deep fried Mars Bars. Well, in Manchester the thing was "Deep fried Oreo" - Wow!   
Deep Fried Oreo at foot cart in Manchester

We also got to meet an long-time family friend up in Manchester at the "Curry Mile". We went to the top-rated Indian restaurants in the area.  The food was okay, but the company was great! 

Will these be enough poppadoms? 

Here are some 360 panorama images.  Remember to click the images to look around and use +/- buttons to zoom in and out. 
Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

 Piccadilly Gardens

Shambles Square, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Shambles Square 


Manchester Cathedral, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Inside Manchester Cathederal 


Inside the Corn Exchange, Manchester UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Inside the Corn Exchange 


Exchange Square, Manchester, UK - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Exchange Square 


Saturday, September 25, 2021

Isle of Skye, Scotland

Hiking on the Isle of Skye, August 24, 2021

Uig Ferry and Idrigill, Skye

Loch Leatham, Skye

Where is the Isle of Skye?
The largest of the Inner Hebrides. 

First hike was "The Storr" which means big or prominent from old Norse.  While the littlest one got to ride, the other two boys hiked up the trail. It was about 2.5 miles round trip to where we stopped for lunch. They were such troopers!   

This area has been used in several films including Prometheus (2012) and The Wickerman (1973). 

Climbing up to The Big Storr

Stopping for a rest at the foot of Big Storr.

Click to look around on the 360 panorama and use the +/- buttons to zoom. 

The Storr hike, Isle of Sky - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Next, we piled back in the big van and found some of the narrowest roads on the island, leading to our next hike: The Quiraing or "Cuith Raing" in the Gaelic. 

Narrow roads leading up to Quiraing

The car took us most of the way up, and the views were spectacular. 
Looking down on the narrow roads. 

This location is so awe inspiring that it has been used in eight different movie scenes including: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017), Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), The BFG (2016), 
Macbeth (2015), 47 Ronin (2013), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Stardust (2007) and who can forget The Land that Time Forgot (1975). 

Click to look around on the 360 panorama and use the +/- buttons to zoom. 

Cuith Raing, Isle of Skye - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Scottish Highlands

 Some scenes from our visit to the Scottish Highlands,  August 23 - 26, 2021.  Our first stop was in a little town called Pitlochry which is in the region of the River Tay and the Tay Forest. This was significant for us, because our favorite fruit from Whidbey Island is the Tayberry, which originates here. We had lunch here and explored the town briefly, but never found any sign of tayberries.  

After whizzing past Inverness, we headed straight to Loch Ness where we stopped at the Urquhart Castle.  Fortunately for us, Kenny had pre-booked our tickets and we had a reserved time-slot. Even though they (sometimes) sold tickets at the door, they were strictly enforcing the pre-booked times when we arrived. Sadly, we saw another family being turned away after a long drive there with no reservation. This castle played a significant role in various battles between the Scottish and the English since the thirteenth century, finally falling to ruin in the late 17th century.  It is one of the most-visited castles of Scotland with over half a million visitors per year. 

Remains of Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

View of Urquhart Castle from the Citadel

Here are a couple of my spherical 360 panoramas of the area. (Click the image to look around and the +/- buttons to zoom.) 

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


On the shores of Loch Ness - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

On our way to Loch Ness, we tried to expain the legend of the Loch Ness Monster to the kids. We could tell their imaginations were charged as they asked many questions. Jacob, who is our nature lover and says all the animals are his 'friends', informed us that "Bessie" as he called her, was his friend too. We didn't get a chance to see Bessie (or Nessie), but we did see plenty of tour-boats out on the water looking for her. 

Tour boat on Loch Ness

Skipping stones on the beach of Loch Ness

On the beach of Loch Ness

After Loch Ness, we drove to our next stop, which was our vacation rental house with 4 bedrooms in a small village named Dornie. The house faced the water which provided a very peaceful view of what we'd call a cove, that connects to the sea. The house was perfect for our group and had a spacious kitchen which turned out to be a big blessing as most of the nearby restaurants were restricted to pre-booked tables and couldn't take walk-ins due to COVID restrictions and lack of staff.  

A view of Loch Long from the beach in front of our rental in Dornie, Scotland

A short walk from our rental, we discovered one of our most favorite castles yet: Eilean Donan Castle originally of the McKenzie clan. This castle is a private residence and offers tours through a private foundation. The history dates back to the sixth century, but around the 13th century it became the castle of Kenneth MacKenzie or the MacKenzies of Kintail. Now if you watched the TV series called Outlander, you might be familiar with some of the MacKenzie legends and characters. I know I've seen this castle on the screen before and perhaps you have too. It's been included in many movies including these: 
Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948)
The Master of Ballantreee starring Errol Flynn (1953)
The New Avengers (1976)
Highlander (1986)
Loch Ness (1996)
James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999)
BBC One Television Idendity (1997 – 2002)

At Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich

Eilean Donan Castle in the evening

During the time of the MacKenzie clan, they employed a family called the McRae to be their bodyguards and provide protection. Long after the castle fell to ruin, the McRae family purchased the island in 1911 and began restoration of the castle. It is this family who owns it today and still uses it for family events.  

We enjoyed a private tour inside the castle and learned much about the history and families involved. Because we were the first tour of the day, the boys got special treatment by the tour guides and were taken back into areas normally not accessible by visitors where they got to see the back side of the peep-holes of the main Keep, where the bodyguards watched over the MacKenzies when visitors came. 

The tour was different than most old stone castles, in that this castle is actively used as a residence and is fully operational. In the main keep and kitchen, they had wax figures and plenty of old artwork, arms decorating the place. (Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside.)

Eilean Donan Castle in the morning fog. 

Painting of Eilean Donan Castle by Jonathan Wheeler

Castle map

Here are a few of the spherical 360 panoramas of the castle in the fog. (Click the image to look around and the +/- buttons to zoom.) 

Eilean Donan Castle bridge - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA


The Great Wall Walkway at Eilean Donan Castle - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

After our time exploring the Isle of Skye, we headed back down through the Highlands and passed through The Trossachs National Park and Loch Lomond. We decided to stop at Firkin Point and spent some time on the beach just relaxing and enjoying the beautiful scenery.  There is something magical about being in the far northern latitudes on a lake in the summertime. The water, the skies and the hills take on a magical glow. This feeling can be similar to the feeling one gets from being at Glacier National Park in Montana, or Denali National Park in Alaska, or even Iceland, Norway or Sweden during the summer months.  

Enjoying the sunshine at Loch Lomond

On the beach of Loch Lomond and Firkin Point. 

Another view of Loch Lomond from Firkin Point.