After leaving England, we sailed across the Channel to one of the Channel Islands, Guernsey, which is, you know, a Channel Island... In the English Channel. (This was confusing to some people we met, so I hope I've clarified it a bit.) The Channel Islands are actually not English, or British, or part of the United Kingdom, but are part of the Duchy of Normandy. Since William the Conqueror became King of England in 1066, the English monarch has ruled the Channel Islands as the Duke of Normandy. (Yes, even though we'd assume that Queen Elizabeth II would be the Duchess, which I found surprising.) William the Conqueror was the last person to successfully invade England, but nearly 900 years later, Hitler gave it a good crack. And he succeeded in invading the Channel Islands, turning some into concentration camps and others into holiday-like troop camps, heavily fortifying all of them.
We visited the German Military Underground Hospital - a creepy network of dripping wet, slippery concrete tunnels, which was briefly used after D-day on the nearby Normandy beaches. Then we went to the German Occupation Museum, an amazing collection of uniforms, equipment, letters, souvenirs and stories.
The next day we arrived in the Republic of Ireland, at a south coast port named Cobh (pronounced Cove). We travelled through glorious green agricultural countryside, to the famous Blarney castle, set in beautiful gardens... Full of tourists!! Oh well.
On to Dublin, where we were sad to find the statue of Molly Malone was not on display, due to conservation works. However, we did visit Trinity College, learnt a lot about ground water issues in structural engineering. And saw where Jack Gleeson (Prince Joffrey) lived at university. Apparently he's much nicer than his character (not hard!) At the end of the grounds tour, we visited the famous Long Room, the beautiful old library which houses the Book of Kells. The displays leading into the Book are amazing, highlighting and explaining key features, so that the actual Book is a little anticlimactic - like the Mona Lisa - smaller and dimmer than expected, under special lights. No photography allowed of course. Coming int the Long Room itself, special displays were set up, telling the story of Brian Boru, with illustrations that reminded me of the kid's movie, Brave.
We also visited St Patrick's cathedral - so many geeky squee moments - this is where Jonathon Swift, writer of Gulliver's Travels, was Dean of the Cathedral, where there are monuments like those to the family of scientist Robert Boyle, where William of Orange attended church before the Battle of the Boyne. Then, for something really romantic, a visiting school choir sang a beautiful version of the Irish Blessing, which was a special part of our wedding. A little bit of honeymoon magic, taking us back to listening to my friend CEBG reading a version of the blessing on the mountainside at Dinner Plain.
Our next stop was back in the UK, in Northern Ireland. From the port in Belfast, we travelled along the north coast of County Antrim, to the Giant's Causeway. These amazing basalt columns were formed through the cooling process of lava, a lava flow so big that it connects Ireland and Scotland, only 20km away. Yup, science geekery, gotta love it!
Scotland was our next stop, arriving at Glasgow and taking another bus into the county side. The little village of Inveraray sits just down the hill from the Castle of Inveraray, the seat of the Dukes of Argyle. Downton Abbey has been filmed here, but I was more interested in HRH Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, who married the 9th Duke. Then we went on to Loch Lomond - compulsory singalong required. A beautiful village on its shore, with a lovely church, complete with a Viking grave by the church gate. Hundreds of years of history in one spot.
At our next spot, there were thousands.