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We were only about 30 minutes from the Scotish border during our stay in Cockermouth, and we began to hear Rabbie Burns, Scotland’s favorite literary son, calling us to come up for a visit.  Over a smoked salmon and scrambled eggs breakfast, we made plans to stop at the Robert Burns Center in Dumfries, Scotland and then a swing past the Bladnoch Distillery in Wigtown before heading up to Ayr, Scotland for the night.

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was a Scottish poet and lyricist who is widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland and is celebrated worldwide. He was a pioneer of the Romantic movement, but may be best known to Americans for the folk songs he collected from across Scotland, including his poem (and song) “Auld Lang Syne”.

The Robert Burns Center is situated in an 18th-century watermill by the banks of the River Nith in Dumfries, tells the story of the Bard’s extraordinary time in the market town. We found him waiting for our visit!

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At the centre, we picked up a walking map of the Burns sites in town which included his home, some memorial park statues and his burial place.

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20131031-073356.jpgOne Burns poem that remains well known across the world today is “A Red, Red Rose”, which we found inscribed on a marker in a small rose garden.

We found ourselves at The Globe Inn, Burns favorite local pub, around lunchtime and made ourselves at home for a bowl of soup before heading back out into the rain.

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Inside the pub, Burns favorite chair sits beside a fireplace in a shrinal corner.

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Back in the car to taste some Scotch! Bladnoch Distillery, on the banks of the River Bladnoch, has been producing the “Spirit of the Lowlands” since 1817. Even with Mary Poppins on the GPS, we had some trouble finding the place, but did recognize that Wigtown, Scotland would have been a great place to spend a day. Wigtown is known as Scotland’s Book Town and hosts over 20 book stores. But we kept on to the distillery, only to discover we were the only car in the parking lot and distillery tours were not running that day. We did grab a few tastings, buy a small bottle and watch a bit of an informational video. Even in the rain, the facility was impressive.

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Our drive up to Ayr, Scotland would have been even more beautiful without the gray, rainy skies. Ayr is a coastal town which lies on the mouth of the River Ayr which flows into the larger Firth of Clyde estuary. From the coast, the Isle of Arran can be seen, and on a very clear day, the northern tip of Northern Ireland, but we had no such clarity!

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Luckily, we had booked a last minute accommodation at the Horizon Hotel and enjoyed a great Scottish dinner at The Waterfront Restaurant. We always try to sample the foods of the region, and decided the we had to give haggis a chance. We were surprisingly pleased with our appetizer of Haggis Fritters served with turnip purée and potato with a side of whiskey sauce.

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I was overjoyed to find Mussels with chorizo and cider on the menu, since I fell in love with mussels in Ireland two years ago, and David celebrated the miles of sheep we had passed during our day’s drive by ordering the double loin lamb chop with mint purée and potato fondant.

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The next morning, it was off to nearby Alloway to visit the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. We have been to MANY museums and homes associated with authors, and this is one rivaled the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas, CA. State of the art displays – some interactive – allowed for a self guided tour of the museum building.

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One showcase was devoted to Burns’ connection to John Steinbeck’s classic Of Mice and Men. The title is borrowed from Burns’ “To a Mouse”, which begins with the epigraph “On turning her up in her nest, with the plough, November, 1785” and ends with the proverbial lines “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, gang aft agley.” Burns’ mouse was everywhere this trip, beginning with the artwork hanging at Langdale Chase, where we attended the wedding.

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This larger than life mouse was placed along the Poet’s Path, a walking route connecting the museum to the Burns Cottage where Robert was born and a monument overlooking the late medieval bridge Brig ‘o Doon, made famous in the poem “Tam o’ Shanter”.

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We felt so reconnected to Rabbie Burns at the end of these two days that we made a promise to celebrate Burns this winter – on January 25? Anyone want to be invited?

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Before our road trip through England, I searched for the perfect book to take along on the iPad. I wanted a book set in England that would compliment our travel route and Harold Fry was the perfect companion. At the beginning of the novel, Harold receives a note from a woman named Queenie, a brewery co-worker from his distant past. She has dictated her note to a worker at the hospice where she has presumably gone to die. Harold writes back and tells his insecure and cloying wife that he is walking to the post office with his note. But when he gets there, he decides to walk to the next post office, and then the next – believing somehow that his walking is keeping Queenie alive. His unlikely pilgrimage becomes a sort of “Forrest Gump” mission, where he is joined by other unlikely pilgrims. As we motored along on the wrong side of the road through the English countryside, we passed towns that I had seen through Harold’s eyes already on the trip. Harold Fry’s story was touching, life affirming and perfect for this trip.

(See my next review for Rachel Joyce’s Perfect)

Day two began with smoked haddock and eggs at The Croft House where breakfast is the highlight of the day. Eddie, who used to run pubs, waits on his guests while his wife, Barbara prepares food in the kitchen. Eddie aims to please and was full of weather predictions and travel suggestions for our trip to the wedding at the Langdale Chase Hotel in Windemere, almost an hour away. Although it was rainy, the views were spectacular across the lake and the hotel was full of historic elegance – a perfect venue for an intimate, emotional and classical fairy-tale wedding. We were honored to be among the select guests.

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The day after the wedding was ours to explore the charm of Cockermouth – and try to appreciate not having to drive anywhere. It is a charming and very walkable town. Our first stop was inside of Mitchell’s Auction House to sit and take in a bit of local color.

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Then on to the birthplace and home of poet William Wordsworth right in the middle of town. Wordsworth (1770-1850) was a major English Romantic poet who, with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, helped to launch the Romantic Age in English literature with the 1798 joint publication Lyrical Ballads. It looked like it might rain, but most of the day featured sun peaking through the clouds, which brought to mind a Wordsworth favorite:

I WANDERED lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 10
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed–and gazed–but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 20
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
1804

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20131030-074832.jpgCockermouth experienced a devastating flood in 2009, and many shops and business still display the water marks and before and after renovations photos. No where was this history more evident than in J. B. Banks Traditional Ironmongery and Hardware Shop with a small hardware museum in the back end of the fascinating shop.

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Many interesting storefronts line the streets of the town – the butcher, the grocer, the fishmonger and the bike shop with an name that made us giggle!

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20131030-080151.jpgReally? 4play in Cockermouth?

Luckily, we had worked up a thirst by the time we walked across the bridge to the Jennings Brewery which sits in the shadow of a castle. We took the 45 minute, thoroughly enjoyable brewery tour with Phil, who ended the tour in the tasting room and insisted that anyone who wanted sample each of the available brews in their charming little pub.

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20131030-081025.jpgDinner was at Tarantella, where I chose a local fish, panfried bream.

We realized we were still recovering from the time change, so we retired early to watch enough BBC news to assure us that the US government was, in fact, up and running again. Pleasant dreams!

After a long night’s flight, we arrived in the UK bright and early on Tuesday October 15 and fetched our rental car – a Volvo diesel wagon – from the Manchester airport car hire and we were off. With very little adjustment time for David, he was driving on the wrong side of the highway to Liverpool in order for us to meet our John Lennon Fab4 Cab Tour at the appointed 10:30 time. Thanks to the Mary Poppins voice on the GPS we arrived with enough time to have breakfast at Leaf, a restaurant I had chosen when researching the best full English breakfast in Liverpool. We were not disappointed – except that there is no cream for your coffee. Just milk in the UK! David got the full English breakfast which included two sunny side up eggs, black pudding, sausage, tomato, mushrooms, toast and baked beans.

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We still don’t get the baked beans part. I ordered the pescatarian full English which swapped the sausage for some smoked salmon.

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Plenty of time to eat and find a car park to ditch the car and meet Eddy, our most enjoyable Beatles tour cab driver. In approximately 3 hours he had us in and out of the cab to stop at about 15 different locations in Liverpool associated with the life of John Lennon. He carried a binder full of photos in plastic sleeves to augment his narration by showing us historic photos in front of many of the buildings.

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Beginning with the hospital where he was born, we got a full dose of John Lennon history and learned quite a bit we did not already know.

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The tour was a great way to see Liverpool, which turned out not to be the dirty, industrial city I had imagined. The only problem was I kept falling asleep every item the cab began moving.

We had to keep moving on to get to Cockermouth in the Lake District two and a half hours north of Liverpool. We checked in to our lovely room at The Croft Guest House and met another Eddie – our host. He gave use directions to a great place nearby for our first pub dinner and pint – The Castle Bar.

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