Nottingham, England

It’s easy to imagine how Nottingham may have looked in the middle ages. The narrow, winding streets and bustling center of the city surrounding the castle follow much the same design as they were hundreds of years ago., when Robin Hood and the Sheriff of Nottingham were in their prime. But I’ll get to them later.

Nottingham Castle entrance, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Nottingham Castle gardens, 2014. c. Leah Putz

In the center of Nottingham, perched on a hill, sits Nottingham Castle. Since its construction in 1067, the castle has served an important role in English history, especially in the middle ages when it was a royal fortress and residence. It was famously occupied by Prince John supporters like the Sheriff of Nottingham while his brother King Richard was fighting in the crusades. In fact, Robin and the Sheriff had their final showdown at the castle in the legend of Robin Hood. Today, the castle functions as a museum and art gallery, specializing in relics from Nottingham’s history.

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Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem facade, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Neighboring Nottingham castle is one of the oldest inns in England- Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem! This quaint, adorable inn and pub was established in 1189 according to the words on the facade of the building. The small, low-ceilinged interior definitely gives the impression of an aged space, so it’s not hard to believe the claim is true and the inn is in fact almost 1000 years old. Built into the caves beneath Nottingham Castle, the inn has a rich history, having been a common stop for pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem (hence the name). The inn’s pub offers delicious meal options in the way of classic English dishes such as beef and ale pie, fish and chips, and sausage and mash.

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Traditional English meal in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, 2014. c. Leah Putz

If you want to learn all about Robin Hood, his gang of Merry Men, and their escapades, make your way to the courtyard area outside the castle walls. Here you’ll find a life-sized statue of Robin himself! Behind the statue are a few copper plaques implanted in the castle wall. Each plaque depicts a scene from the legend of Robin Hood. There is also a city map in this area, highlighting all of the locations that feature in the legend, such as the cathedral where Robin and Marian were married, and Sherwood Forest.

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Robin Hood relief sculpture, 2014. c. Leah Putz

There’s much more to see in Nottingham that I wasn’t able to get to either of the times I visited- such as a tour of the caves beneath the castle, Sherwood Forest, and Old Market Square. But, I love this small city, so I’ll be certain to return and explore some more, and I highly recommend you take a trip there and explore as well!

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Robin Hood and I, 2014. c. Leah Putz

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Blarney Castle

I’ve seen quite a few castles in my time in many different countries, but none are quite so charming as Blarney Castle in Southern Ireland. There’s a reason it’s one of the most famous castles in all of Ireland- a title which really means something in a country where there are literally hundreds of castles through the cities and countryside.

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Blarney Castle, 2015. c. Leah Putz

The current castle as it stands dates all the way back to 1446, but it’s believed that there were fortifications on site as early as the 1100s. Since its construction, Blarney Castle has stood strong and nearly intact through the test of time. There’s something really magical about being inside or stranding upon a structure that has survived through so many years.

Blarney Castle Tower, 2015. c. Leah Putz

View of the Irish countryside from atop Blarney Castle, 2015. c. Leah Putz

The Blarney Castle grounds are enormous. Gardens cover every inch of the area, including the poison garden which features poisonous plants in large cages. If you’re planning a visit, I would suggest setting aside a whole day because it will take that long to explore the beauty of the various gardens as well as the castle itself. There are also many other historical features on the Blarney Castle grounds, like the noble horse graveyard and the Blarney House, a mansion which was built in the 18th century.

Gravestone of Tullig the horse, 2015. c. Leah Putz

Seven Sisters and other photos from the Blarney Castle gardens, 2015. c. Leah Putz

One of the most critical moments in the castle’s history is the placement of the Blarney Stone into the tower in 1446. People travel far and wide to kiss and stone and – according to legend –  receive ‘the gift of Blarney’ or the ‘gift of gab’. The origin of this magical stone is shrouded in mystery, making it all the more appealing to visit. One of the theories as to its origins tells of Blarney lord Cormac McCarthy, who kissed the stone that had been blessed by the Irish goddess Cliodhna and was thus able to convince Queen Elizabeth I not to deprive him of his lands. While kissing the stone yourself, try not to think about the fact that its been kissed by millions before you, and just enjoy the adrenaline rush of hanging upside down over a clear drop from the top of the tower of the castle to reach it!

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Kissing the Blarney Stone, 2015. c. Leah Putz

Edinburgh- a Haunted City

If you’re intrigued by the paranormal and love traveling to places with a dark and ghostly history, look no further than Edinburgh, Scotland! The Scottish capital has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the world. The city’s history is full of violence and tragedy, from wars, to an infestation of the black plague, and many more, so it’s not surprising that Edinburgh is rumored to have paranormal energies.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Greyfriars Kirkyard has been proclaimed the most haunted cemetery in the world. Established in the 1560s, the cemetery is home to thousands of graves, and countless restless spirits. The entrance to the graveyard is marked the by headstone of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who slept on his master’s grave in the cemetery for 14 years in the 1800s, until his own death. The cemetery itself is made up of vaults, tombs, and mausoleums. Many of the graves have mortsafes (iron cages) to deter grave robbers, who had become a serious issue in the early 1800s. The cemetery has many notable residents, but the most notorious is Sir George MacKenzie, who has become the MacKenzie Poltergeist. For those who dare to enter the cemetery and the MacKenzie mausoleum after dark, beware, for many have reported leaving with scrapes, bruises, and sometimes worse, all at the hands of the MacKenzie poltergeist.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

But not just the cemeteries in Edinburgh are ghostly- beneath the buildings in the Old Town sits Mary King’s Close, which has had a reputation for being haunted since as early as the 17th century. According the legend, the hauntings began with plague victims being quarantined and left to die in the Close. The Close is now a tourist attraction, presenting an accurate representation of Edinburgh as it was from the 1500s-1700s.

The Edinburgh Vaults have generated such buzz that  they’ve been visited by the show Ghost Adventures! The Vaults were built under the South Bridge arches in 1788, and functioned for a period as taverns and storage spaces, and became Edinburgh’s slums. Today, most of the vaults are closed. The few that are left open are used for ghost tours, concerts, and private events. I toured the Vaults with a Ghost Tour, and though I didn’t myself have any paranormal experiences, many visitors have reported strange sounds, cold patches, and there are countless eerie photos from the area.

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Orbs in the Edinburgh Vaults, 2014. c. Leah Putz

TIME magazine has ranked Edinburgh Castle #3 on their list of Top 10 Most Haunted Places. In 2001 when a large scale paranormal investigation of the castle took place, over half of the participants reported experiencing some sort of paranormal phenomena. The castle, having been built in the 12th century, has seen its fair share of war, executions, and death. Today, it is Edinburgh’s most visited tourist attraction, and many of those visitors report paranormal experiences, including seeing apparitions. Greyfriars Bobby is a regular sighting, as well as a headless drummer boy, and a piper.

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Edinburgh Castle and Princes’ Street Gardens, 2014. c. Leah Putz
So if you’re feeling courageous, head to Scotland, and brave the haunted streets of Edinburgh. Who knows, you might meet someone from another century!

A Historic Gem: Stirling

Stirling, Scotland, otherwise known as ‘The Gateway of the Highlands,’ has a history stretching all the way back to the Stone Age. It’s position at the border between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland made it an desirable point of conquest, attracting both the Vikings and the English over the course of history. The most well-known battles taking place during the Wars of Scottish Independence at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The film Braveheart may come to mind, and rightfully so, as in Stirling nearby in the village of Bannockburn William Wallace and Robert the Bruce attacked the English.

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River Forth, Where Many Battles of the Wars of Scottish Independence were Fought, 2014. c. Leah Putz

One of the most wonderful things about Stirling, to me, is that this rich history hasn’t been forgotten over the course of so many hundreds of years. I came to Stirling intending to just pass through and head further north immediately, but when I got a sense of where I was, I decided to stick around and explore for a bit before continuing on. From my experience the citizens are eager to share what Stirling has to offer with tourists. On the way into Stirling from the nearby village of Duone, my cab driver pointed to the river near Stirling bridge and said “There’s the spot where William Wallace ambushed the English army.” He also pointed out the Wallace Monument, which holds William’s sword, and mentioned that there’s a statue that bears “striking resemblance to Mel Gibson” of Wallace near the monument.

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Wallace Monument and the Highlands, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Speaking of the Wallace Monument, a hike up to the top of Stirling hill, where the Stirling Castle is perched, lends a breathtaking view of both the Monument and the surrounding jagged hills that are so characteristic of Scotland. Stirling Castle itself is also a thing of majesty, being one of the largest and most historically significant castles in all of Scotland, and is considered a Scheduled Ancient Monument by the U.K. Among the events that have occurred at the castle are the crowning of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542, and a failed attempt to take the castle from the English by Bonnie Prince Charlie toward the end of the doomed Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1745.

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Stirling Castle and cemetery, 2014. c. Leah Putz

I found my time strolling aimlessly through Stirling incredibly enriching and well spent. Just down from the castle the heart of the Old Town (called locally Top of the Town) survives, giving Stirling a distinct and medieval look. I also stopped by the Church of the Holy Rude, which has stood near Stirling cemetery since 1129. I tried to take everything in, admiring how much history was beneath my feet, and still standing.

Top 5 Things to do in Cork City

  1. Old English Market

 

The best sausage I’ve ever had in my life was at the Old English Market in Cork. The sausages alone are reason enough to visit, let alone all the other foods and history (two of my favorite things). The market is best known for its fresh meats, buttered eggs, spiced beef, and other delicious treats.

Though the current building was built in the mid-1800s, a market had stood on site since as early as 1788. The market has since drawn many visitors, including Queen Elizabeth II and has won a gold medal from Europa Nostra!

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The River Lee, Cork, 2015. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Cork City Gaol

 

If you want to visit a building with a grim, but fascinating history, look no further than the Cork City Gaol. Now a museum, the Gaol operated as a prison for nearly 100 years, having opened in 1824, and saw Cork through a lot of turmoil, including the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

After closing the prison in 1923, the Gaol operated briefly as a radio station, but stood empty for almost 50 years before reopening as a museum as recently at 1993. Today, you can tour the Gaol and witness the history of the prison firsthand, not to mention the beautiful 17th century architecture., for an adult admission rate of only €8,00.

 

  1. Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral

 

Speaking of architecture, Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral is a magnificent work of it. It was built in the 1800s by William Burges in the French Gothic style, and is marvelously imposing. If you’re a religious Catholic, it may be interesting to see the burial places of bishop William Lyon and archbishop Richard Boyle, who were both laid to rest here. Saint Fin Barre himself was supposedly buried in a graveyard at the east end of the Cathedral after founding a monastery on site in 606A.D.

Tours of the Cathedral are only €5,00- a very low cost for the opportunity to explore such a beautiful building.

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View of Cork City from the Shandon Tower, 2015. c. Leah Putz

 

  1. Shandon Tower

 

Connected to the Church of St. Anne is the Shandon Tower, which consists of the clock tower and the bell tower of the church. The tower stands tall over the city and is a striking and famous landmark. The clock, which is known as the ‘Four-Faced Liar,’ shows a slightly different time of each of its four faces. Atop the tower is a salmon-shaped weather vane painted in gold leaf, symbolizing how important fishing industry was to Cork.

For only €5,00, you can climb to the top of the tower, ring the church bells, and witness an incredible 360 degree view of the city from above.

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The Shandon Tower, 2015. c. Leah Putz

 

1.Visit pubs

Sitting down in the pub, listening to live traditional Irish music, and having a pint of beer is a staple of Irish culture. During my time in Cork, I visited many of the pubs including Mutton Lane and the Sin e. The Sin e is considered by many to be one of the best pubs in Ireland, and was voted one of the best places in the world to spend St. Patrick’s Day!

My favorite thing about the pubs in Cork is the atmosphere. Rather than having electric light bulbs, a lot of pubs had empty liquor bottles with long lit candles in the neck scattered throughout the bar, and fairy lights. This creates a relaxing aura and, coupled with the traditional Irish music, there is no mistaking that you are in Ireland.

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First Guinness in Mutton Lane, 2015. c. Leah Putz