by Paul Hoffman
Have you ever wanted to take a ride over the majestic viaduct that the Hogwarts Express train traversed in the Harry Potter films?
Or perhaps you’re more of a “Cliffs of Insanity” fan. You know, those steep cliffs that Inigo Montoya and Westley climb in “The Princess Bride” before engaging in their epic sword battle.
Maybe you’re much more old school that that. Fancy a tour of Trinity College’s “Book of Kells” exhibit, featuring a ninth-century, intricately illustrated version of the four Gospels of the Bible? Or a tour of Abbotsford, the castle-looking, country house that Sir Walter Scott called home?
Seventeen central Indiana residents had a chance to experience all this, and much more, during a trip to Ireland and Scotland in July that was coordinated by Tilson Travel, which donated a portion of its proceeds to the Greenwood Public Library. The Literary Legends and Inspiring Landscapes of Ireland & Scotland trip focused mainly on experiencing landmarks associated with famous poets, novelists and playwrights of those two countries as well as some of the iconic scenery.
Along the way, the group sampled local cuisine and hotel accommodations, learned to deal with two monetary systems (Scotland uses the pound and Ireland the euro), and experienced a comfortable if somewhat rainy summer climate along with a smattering of Irish, Scottish and other dialects as many other Europeans have found work in those countries.
Among the general consensuses formed were:
• The Scots are welcome to keep their haggis on that side of the ocean. It doesn’t matter how much spice you add to sheep innards; they’re still not tasty.
• Baked beans and grilled tomatoes are kind of weird to put on a breakfast plate.
• Kilts are cool.
• There are castles everywhere … and also a lot of buildings that just look like castles.
• There are also plenty of golf courses, especially in Scotland, the birthplace of the sport.
• Except for the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, everything is lush and green. And at the right time of year, those mountains are covered in waves of purple heather.
• This driving on the left side of the road takes some getting used to, even if you’re not the one driving; pedestrians need to adjust, too.
Below are a few highlights from the trip, as well as some ideas if you consider going.
The country’s capital and second most populated city (Glasgow is first), Edinburgh features a medieval Old Town and elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings.
Edinburgh Castle, which dates at least to the 12th century, dominates the city’s skyline from its position atop Castle Rock, an extinct volcano that is the highest point in the city. Over the centuries, the castle has been a royal residence and fort; today it is Scotland’s most-visited paid tourist attraction.
There are plenty of quaint shops and unique restaurants and pubs in this compact city that has plenty of foot traffic and public transportation.
Check out The Spoon Café on Nicholson Street, where authors such as J.K. Rowling spent much time writing, or the Grassmarket, a section of the city said to have inspired Diagon Alley in Rowling’s Harry Potter books.
Not far from Edinburgh Castle sits the Writers’ Museum, which presents the lives of three of the foremost Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Located on River Tweed southeast of Edinburgh, the ancestral home of Sir Walter Scott is one of Scotland’s longest-standing tourist attractions. Completed in 1824 and opened to the public in 1833 shortly after Scott’s death, the house contains a collection of historic relics, weapons and armor, and a library with more than 9,000 rare volumes. Visitors can see Scott’s study, library, drawing room, armories and the dining room where he died. The grounds include impressive gardens and a visitors center.
Cairngorms National Park
The largest national park in the British Isles (1,748 square miles), this park in northeast Scotland was established in 2003. It is home to Aviemore, a town popular for skiing and other winter sports, and for hill-walking. The area also includes the Highland Wildlife Park, a 259-acre safari park and zoo, and several whiskey distilleries. The GPL group visited the Royal Lochnagar distillery, a short drive from the crown jewel of the park, Balmoral, the Scottish holiday home to the Royal Family.
Located on River Dee, the Balmoral grounds include a castle (of course), gardens, cottages available for rent, gift shop and café. Self-guided audio tours are available providing historical context to the sights.
Comprising roughly the northwest half of the country, this area is sparsely populated, with many mountain ranges, and includes the highest mountain in the British Isles, Ben Nevis. It is also home to two of the country’s most wellknown lakes, Loch Ness and Loch Lomond. Plenty of tourist attractions line their shores, and you can take boat tours, too; just watch out for Nessie!
One-quarter of the Highland population lives in or near Inverness, the northernmost city in the United Kingdom with a population of approximately 50,000. Located at the mouth of River Ness, Inverness lies near two important battle sites: the 11th-century battle of Blàr nam Fèinne against Norway that took place on The Aird, and the 18th-century Battle of Culloden that took place on Culloden Moor.
Near Culloden Moor are the Clava Cairns, a series of Bronze Age circular chamber tombs. The roofs of these tombs have long since caved in, and visitors can enter them through an open passageway. The Outlander book series and TV shows take a page from this site as its time travel portal is based on a large split rock at Clava Cairns that is said to have been the site of several unexplained disappearances.
Harry Potter fans can take a trip across the Glenfinnan Viaduct Railway on the Jacobite Steam Train, which travels from Fort William to Mallaig, a small port town on the west coast of Scotland, and back.
Every midnight on New Year’s Eve, millions of revelers sing Robert Burns’ most famous poem, “Auld Lang Syne.” This seaside resort town is home to the famed poet’s childhood home, a thatched-roof cottage, plus a Burns museum.
Following an early morning ferry ride from Scotland to Northern Ireland, the group took a quick trip through downtown Belfast, the capital and largest city in the country. A major visitor attraction, Titanic Belfast is a monument to Belfast’s maritime heritage and was opened in 2012 on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard, which built the ill-fated luxury liner.
Republic of Ireland
The capital and largest city of the Republic of Ireland features plenty of impressive sights, literary themed or otherwise. The city has been home to such notable writers as Samuel Beckett, Maeve Binchy, Elizabeth Bowen, Austin Clarke, James Joyce, George Bernard Shaw, Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde and William Butler Yeats.
Many of these writers are memorialized with plaques on a wall in St. Patrick’s Park, which adjoins the famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral, founded in 1191 and the location for a number of public national ceremonies.
Another iconic literary-related attraction in Dublin is Trinity College with its famed “Book of Kells.” It is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament with various prefatory texts and tables. It was believed to have been created around 800 A.D. in an Irish monastery.
Dublin nightlife is prodigious and diverse. From quiet pubs to theater to Irish dancing and music, visitors have plenty to choose from.
Built in 1195 by the Normans, the castle has been restored to what it looked like in the 18th century. Besides the castle itself, there are ornamental gardens, and part of the National Art Gallery is on display. It has become one of the most visited tourist sites in Ireland.
There are plenty of tourist attractions on the island’s west coast. The Greenwood Public Library group toured Desmond Castle in Adare, spent some free time in Limerick (named in 2014 Ireland’s inaugural National City of Culture due to a wide variety of artistic and cultural events held there throughout the entire year), and attended a medieval banquet dinner and show at Knappough Castle, built in 1467 near Ennis.
Cliffs of Moher
The “Cliffs of Insanity” rise 390 feet above the Atlantic Ocean at Hag’s Head and reach their maximum height of 702 feet just north of O’Brien’s Tower, a round stone tower near the midpoint. The cliffs are seen in “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” as well as several other movies. The waters below the cliffs provide a popular surfing destination.
Some famous Scottish writers:
Robert Burns (1759-1796) Poet and lyricist Best known for: “Auld Lang Syne,” “Tam O’Shanter,” “To a Mouse”
Walter Scott (1771-1832) Historical novelist, playwright and poet. Best known for: “Ivanhoe,” “Rob Roy,” “The Lady of the Lake”
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) Novelist, poet, essayist and travel writer. Best known for: “Treasure Island,” “Kidnapped,” “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.”
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) Fiction writer Best known for: Sherlock Holmes detective fiction series
Ian Rankin (1960-) Crime fiction writer Best known for: Inspector Rebus novels
Some famous Irish writers
Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) Playwright, novelist, essayist and poet Best known for: “The Importance of Being Earnest,” “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” “Salome”
W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) Poet Best known for: “The Second Coming,” “When You are Old,” “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”
James Joyce (1888-1941) Novelist, short story writer and poet Best known for: “Ulysses,” “Dubliners,” “Finnegans Wake”
Elizabeth Bowen (1899-1973) Novelist and short story writer Best known for: “The Last September,” “The House in Paris,” “The Heat of the Day
Maeve Binchy (1939-2012) Novelist, playwright, short story writer, columnist Best known for: “Circle of Friends,” “Tara Road,” “How About You”
This article was originally published in Southside Boomers, Franklin, Indiana.
All photos have been taken by the author, Paul Hoffman.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ever since Paul Hoffman was young, he’s been digging for answers to life’s questions. His fifth-grade teacher, Cynthia Chovanec, noted his enthusiasm for finding the truth, writing on his report card: “Paul knows the value of research materials. He knows where to find the information he seeks.”
Paul has been using that inquisitive nature and penchant for getting questions answered throughout his professional career as a journalist as well as with his two published books.
His first book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” was published in 2012 by The History Press. It is a true story of the disappearance of an 8-year-old boy in 1925 and the subsequent investigation into the boy’s murder.
“Wicked Columbus, Indiana,” his second book, published in June 2017 by the same publisher, tells the true tales of some of that city’s more salacious stories.
Paul J. Hoffman was born in Madison, Wisconsin, to Raymond and Sharon (McPhail) Hoffman and was raised in Wauwatosa, a suburb of Milwaukee.
His journalism experience consists of working as a sports writer at the Milwaukee Sentinel; assistant sports editor at Pioneer Press newspapers in the Chicago area; sports editor and news editor in Shelbyville, Indiana; news editor in Columbus, Indiana; special publications editor at the Daily Journal in Franklin, Indiana, and now group special publications editor for AIM Media Indiana, based in Columbus, Indiana.
He is a graduate of Wauwatosa East High School and attended both the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, graduating from the latter with a bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications (Radio/TV sequence) and a minor in English.
His creative nature has led to small roles in two motion pictures, as well as producing a bevy of poems and song lyrics.
He is married to Kimberly Sue Hoffman, has three daughters, a son, two stepdaughters and a granddaughter.