Dragon Hunting In Scotland

I keep asking people if they’ve visited the Shetland Islands and they keep saying, “Why would you go there?” and the answer, of course, is, “Duh.”

Usually, I would try to answer more eloquently (or at least more wordily*) but sometimes you just know that if people don’t already get it, there’s nothing you can do to explain it to them.

Is it a long way to go? Sort of. Do you have to skip past perfectly good sights to get there? Yes. Is it out in the middle of the North Sea, of all places, where hardly anyone lives and there’s not much to do and it no doubt rains a lot and you’ll have to spend the whole time hanging out mainly with birds, sheep, old fishermen’s shacks, stray cyclists, and croft houses? Well what’s not to like, then?

I’ve also told the kids there might be dragons**. Again, if this doesn’t increase your interest, we’re just missing each other.


Here be dragons.

Here be dragons.

So, obviously, the trip I was teasing people about on Facebook and twitter, the one we’re taking in mid-2015, is to none other than the Shetland Islands, UK. And while we’re at it (because they’re on the way), to London, North England, and the Union Canal in the lowlands of Scotland. Here’s a rundown of the itinerary:

Intended for: Mum, Dad, one 4yo, one 7yo, two Grandmas and a Granddad.

Overview: Vaguely engineering-themed trip taking in trains, ferries, canal boats, castles, Viking artefacts, and, possibly, dragons and Harry Potter, because you can’t be a slave to your theme.

Strengths: We are unlikely to meet any actual dragons. We probably won’t be driving through walls of snow.

Forseeable difficulties and mitigating strategies: There’s a lot of time spent sitting more or less on each others’ laps, either in seven-seater passenger vans, on canal boats, or in bunk rooms on the Shetland Isles watching the rain outside fall down on birds, sheep and cyclists. I’m thinking of putting together a list of rousing songs which will help us all pull together cheerfully like oppressed nineteenth-century factory workers or desperate men at sea.

Also: jet lag.

Estimated Price Bracket: I am only just realising how much.


Day One

  • Fly Singapore->London (18hrs, 1 stop)
  • Meet Dad in London. Hand kids to Dad, who will have arrived some weeks earlier and will therefore be well rested and able to take tired, jet lagged, over-excited kids in hand.
  • Overnight London

Days Two To Six

  • Hang out near London, but probably not in London at the rate we’re going because we keep seeing things that are just next to London which would be really nice to “drop in on while we’re there after all it’s only a day trip from London” to the point we’re in danger of paying a fortune for central accommodation and not actually getting to see anything in the actual city in which we’re staying apart from the mainline train station, although for Potter fans that does actually count***.
  • Nanny arrives to join us in London at some point
  • Overnight in London

Days Seven To Nine

  • Train to North England to visit a friend near Hull, the town on the top of every tourist’s itinerary. It has a bridge!
  • Overnight in a village just outside Hull

Days Ten to Twelve

  • Pick up hire van. Pick up two extra Grandparents, who will probably be somewhere around York by that stage, but if not it’ll be Gloucestershire, or it could be somewhere else, anyway they’ll let us know beforehand
  • Drive to Northumberland
  • Visit Alnwick Castle, as featured in the first Harry Potter movie
  • Overnight on a charming rural property in the Northumberland countryside

Days Thirteen to Seventeen

  • Drive to Aberdeen and catch the car ferry to the Shetland Islands
  • Hang out with birds, sheep, old fishermen’s shacks, stray cyclists, and croft houses
  • Hunt for dragons
  • Overnight on ferry/in camping bod



Duh. (Source)

Days Eighteen To Twenty-One

  • Ferry back to Aberdeen
  • Drive to Falkirk and switch to a canal boat, which I’m sure will go well after the previous couple of weeks cooped up together in a cramped passenger van, ferry cabin, and camping bod, especially if we end up being able to add Aunty M for this leg as she tends to know the wrong type of rousing songs
  • Ride the famous Falkirk Wheel, and traverse the tunnel and Avon Adqueduct
  • Overnight on the canal boat/in Falkirk

Day Twenty-Two

Day Twenty-Three

  • London

Day Twenty-Four

  • Fly home to Singapore (18hrs, 1 stop)

At this stage I’m about 50% booked, so if you have any great suggestions for changes to the itinerary you should probably just write, “Readers: contact me privately if you’d like to know how to do it better,” or else you might make me weep into my tea.

If, on the other hand, you know of an awesome place to stay in London with three adults and two children, I do want to hear it.

Also welcome: tips for canal boating and jet lag, rousing songs of the kind which have bolstered oppressed factory workers and desperate men at sea (family-friendly), stories about dragons, general commentary on life and/or blogging.

Special mention to Leah of Kid Bucket List for her close and fiendishly-deduced guess on Facebook and Danielle of Bubs On The Move for being similarly close on twitter.

*Check out, for instance, how many words I used to explain that I had nothing more to say about it than “duh”.

**The author of the excellent How To Train Your Dragon series was inspired by her childhood holiday retreat on an island of the Inner Hebrides, which is not the Shetlands, but which is a lot more similar to the Shetlands than where we are now so it’ll stretch.

***I was trying for four uses of the word “actually” in a single sentence but I can see I’ll have to practice a bit more and come back to you on that one.