Exploring Scotland’s East Coast (Edinburgh to Dundee)
We headed off on our adventure outside the city by rental car. I’m so thankful for a husband who can drive almost anywhere safely. I spent the whole ride out of the city disoriented by being on the wrong side of the car.
The drive started out rough. We got turned around looking for the Falkirk Wheel. Webpage directions and Google maps gave different options and a few of the highway signs were missing. In the end we found the wheel mostly by sheer luck. Even a phone call to the Falkirk Wheel boat tour company didn’t help with directions.
Unfortunately, as Jeff called to find or how to get from the parking lot to the boat area we were informed that the wheel was broken. A hydraulic motor had broken the previous day and the wheel wouldn’t move.
A benefit of travel blogging is that when we checked in they were able to find someone to take us into one of the boats so we could see it. We were also able to ask all our questions about the wheel. This was the first time anyone could remember that the wheel had been broken more than one day.
The Falkirk Wheel links the Upper Union Canal with the Lower Forth & Clide Canal. The wheel is quiet (I’m told) and incredibly efficient because it uses Archimedes Principle to remain perfectly balanced. You’ll need reservations if you want to ride a boat around the Falkirk Wheel. We had an 11am reservation but the day was completely booked. The boat ride lasts about an hour and takes you on the 4 min ride up the wheel, through the tunnel to the turn around point and back down again.
We decided to take a walk up the path to see the top of the wheel and the tunnel on foot. The tunnel runs under the earthen wall (Antonine Wall) built by the Romans and then under a present day railroad track. Once through the tunnel there are two more locks boats must go up to join the Union Canal. The view is stunning and I truly wish we could have ridden the boat through it or at least seen it turning.
The Falkirk Wheel has a variety of “family fun” activities on the property as well. There is a private boat hire, several cafes, playgrounds and Segway tours. There are also hiking and biking paths that leave from the parking lot. A complete map can be found here.
We ate lunch at The Wheelhouse just down the road. The food was good. It feels very much like an American chain restaurant. I would recommend a reservation in good weather when the wheel is working. It’s a large space but can get quite crowded I’m told.
We backtracked a bit to see the Kelpies up close. The Kelpies are located on the Fourth & Clide Canal in the middle of a new park, The Helix. There is a free parking lot about a kilometer from the Kelpies or you can pay the parking fee and park up close (2 GBP).
We opted to take the “The Kelpies Tour” which takes you inside the sculpture. The tour lasts an hour but the first 35 min are spent outside discussing the significance of the Kelpies. Then you head into the head-down Kelpie to see the inner workings. You do not climb the Kelpie. The sculptures are gorgeous both inside and out and really worth a stop. You can book your tickets online, or stop into the visitor center to see if there are openings. There were plenty of other children on the tour, although my kids were a bit “bored” by all the talking.
There is a stand with food at the Kelpies where we had a small ice cream treat. There is also a large playground on the far side of the free parking lot that looked amazing. O literally fell asleep as soon as we were back at the car so we didn’t stop.
We pushed on to the Lockleven Castle. This castle is one of the oldest in Scotland. You have to take a small boat out to the island and then you are left to explore. In good weather the ferry runs every 15/20 minuets but on a rainy day like the day we visited it was a bit more “on demand”. We suggested 45 min on the island (in negotiation with the 6 other people on our boat) and that turned out to be plenty of time to explore.
The castle was home – um prison – to Mary Queen of Scotts when she abdicated the throne to her 1 year old son James. It’s now basically the perfect place to let two little boys run around and explore.
On good weather days we are told it is a perfect picnic location, but you need to be prepared to pack everything out as there are no facilities on the island. (There are tons of picnic tables.)
We spent the night in Dundee at a weird little hotel. When we went to book our trip most of the hotels in the area were booked for the size room we needed. Anyway, we ended up at the New Dundee Carlton Hotel. The room was spacious and clean – trust me I tore the place apart trying to make sure – but it’s also just a little off. One of the shades, which looks out the front window didn’t cover the whole window. Additionally, the hotel shares a front door with a primarily takeout restaurant.
The guy who greeted us was clearly an exchange student. He was pleasant and polite. He told us he sets out breakfast at 5am. Then, when we asked about dinner, he told us he lives in the hotel so mostly just eats the food from the restaurant next door. (Um…ok.)
The tour book was not much help in finding dinner. The pub listed in the neighboring town didn’t want kids there (common in small towns in Scotland) so I looked at foursquare and found a few good looking restaurants back in Dundee.
We ended up at Avery & Co, a new (less then a year old) restaurant near the university that was amazing. It’s trendy and kid friendly. The staff was so nice. The food is local and delicious. It has a nice beer and wine selection as well. If you’re passing through Dundee this is a great option for any meal.
Since are kids are up so early we sometimes end up exploring things before they open. There was a small castle, Broughty Castle, that is a museum, right on the water next to Dundee. It doesn’t open till 9am. We just explored on the outside including heading down to the water’s edge. The tide in the morning on this day was rather incredible.
There is also a great playground just behind the castle that gave the kids a great chance to get some energy out before our drive.
Visit Scotland provided us with an AVSA press pass for our visit, allowing us to visit some attractions for free. All opinions are our own.