Happy Saturday from Derry!

This morning we left Belfast and headed for the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (Irish name: Carraig a’ Ráid, translating to “rock of the casting”),   which was about an hour and fifteen minutes away. The original bridge was built several hundred years ago by salmon fisherman, who needed a way from the mainland to the Carrickarede Island to cast their fishing nets. The current bridge was built in 2008, is 20 metres (66 feet long), and stands 30 metres (98 feet) high over the water.

Carrick-a-Rede is part of the National Trust, a charity whose goal is to protect and preserve historic places in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, and as such, we had to each pay a few pounds to cross the bridge. You actually have to park some distance away from the bridge, but the 1 km walk has some gorgeous views of the coast and the ocean.

View from Carrick-a-Rede

We also walked past grassy fields with sunny yellow wildflowers, and “Oreo” cows, which Lee loves, and are nick-named because of their black bodies with a thick white stripe in the middle. Walking across the bridge was exhilarating, and I actually wished it was much longer! Laura Douglass captured this photo of me with a huge, goofy grin on my face while crossing the bridge over to the island:

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge!

Crossing the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge!

As you can see, the bridge is sturdy and is perfectly safe. I can understand someone hesitating from crossing if they are afraid of heights, and we heard that apparently some people make it over to the island, but are too afraid to walk back for whatever reason, and have to be taken off the island by boat. Dramatic! It was a bit cloudy and overcast this morning, but the views were spectacular, the seabirds noisy, the fresh air invigorating, and the entire experience inspiring.


On the walk back from the island to the mainland, I snapped a cool picture from the bridge:

View from the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge

Don’t look down!

Once we left Carrick-a-Rede, which is in County Antrim, we headed towards Giant’s Causeway, a short 20 minute drive. Lee first took us to a pub for lunch, where I had a fantastic Steak and Guinness pie, which is essentially a puff pastry filled with beef and vegetables and cooked in Guinness. Yum! On the drive, Lee told us the legend behind Giant’s Causeway, and the tale of the Irish giant named Fionn and the Scottish giant Benandonner. The story goes something like this: Benandonner challenged Fionn to a fight, which Fionn accepted. Fionn then built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet one another. But, once Fionn realized that Benandonner was much bigger than he was, he hid. Fionn’s wife, Oonagh, disguised him as a baby and lay him in a cradle, so when Benandonner saw the size of the ‘baby’, he assumed that its father, Fionn, must be the largest giant of them all. Benandonner fled back to Scotland, destroying the causeway behind him so that Fionn could not follow.

Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

The less exciting reality is that the causeway was formed by an ancient volcanic eruption, and is composed of 40,000 basalt columns of solidified lava. These columns have essentially formed stepping stairs that allow visitors to climb and explore, dip their toes in the ocean or tide pools, and enjoy the views of the Northern Atlantic Ocean.

Hanging out at Giant's Causeway!

Hanging out at Giant’s Causeway!

I had a blast exploring the causeway, and even climbed up some of the taller columns that the others wouldn’t. I’ve always loved to climb – and being tall gives me a distinct climbing advantage!

We left the causeway after a few hours, and finished the drive to Derry, which took just over an hour. On the way, Lee, as always, had a bit of a history lesson for us – Fun Fact: A surefire way to distinguish whether or not someone is a Loyalist or a Nationalist is by what they call Derry. The Protestant Loyalists call the town “Londonderry,” while the Irish Nationalists simply call it “Derry.” Lee arranged for us to take a walking tour of Derry. Derry is similar to Belfast in many ways, and has experienced violence and strife from The Troubles. We saw more murals and heard more heart-breaking stories, but also learned a great deal about the past and present of the city.

Mural in Derry

Unsurprisingly, the English Protestants and the Irish Catholics are very opinionated about the current conflict in Gaza.

One of the most simple and yet affecting sights we saw was the monument dedicated to the victims of Bloody Sunday – where 14 protestors and onlookers were killed in Derry by the British Army on January 30, 1972 during a Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association march. You may have heard U2’s popular political protest song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,”  which details The Troubles, and the horrors of Bloody Sunday…

And the battle’s just begun
There’s many lost, but tell me who has won
The trench is dug within our hearts
And mothers, children, brothers, sisters 
Torn apart

Bloody Sunday Memorial - Derry

Bloody Sunday Memorial – Derry

We have had a long day traveling about Northern Ireland and walking around Carrick-a-Rede, Giant’s Causeway, and Derry… So Lee decided to take us all to a pub in Derry called The Ice Wharf. Our group had a great time, eating, drinking, and chatting; some of the group then walked to a bar down the street, but it was extremely cramped, so the girls and I went back to The Ice Wharf to hangout and enjoy a few ciders. A DJ was entertaining the crowd, and it was so much fun to relax like a local and enjoy Derry. There were many “Hen Parties” present, which is the equivalent of an American Bachelorette Party, and those girls were highly amusing! All in all, it’s been yet another great day in Northern Ireland.

I will leave you with this bit of awesome graffiti that I encountered on our walking tour around Derry this afternoon:

Ain't no thang like a chicken wing graffiti in Derry

Ain’t no thang like a chicken wing.

I’ll write from Dublin tomorrow night!

Wishing you all sweet dreams and chicken wings,





A Free Day in Edinburgh!

Today we did not have any class tours, but instead were given the opportunity to branch out and explore this awesome city! Dr. Griffis took several of my classmates on a trip to the Dunfermline Carnegie Library; Dunfermline was Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace, and its library was the first Carnegie library. Unfortunately, the library is now closed, and is undergoing renovations to be turned into a museum and art gallery, but Dr. Griffis got special permission for our class to tour the building and to then see the town itself. Though I wanted to take advantage of this opportunity, I also wanted to explore Edinburgh – I was not expecting to fall in love with this city, but I have. In the end, I decided to stay behind with Jessica.

One of Jessica’s cousins, Michelle, has been traveling around Europe while we’ve been here, and she came to Edinburgh last night. So Jessica and I met up with her this morning.Though I have to say, I was concerned today would be disastrous – I have a heart condition called Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia (PSVT for short). I’ve had it my entire life, and was officially diagnosed when I was 7. Though my episodes are not particularly dangerous or life-threatening by any means, they are temporary debilitating and episodes can last a matter of minutes or over 24 hours. As Forrest Gump would say, “Ya never know what you’re gonna get.” So when I woke up early this morning having an episode, I was fearful that my day of fun had been ruined. Luckily, the episode was a short one, and I was soon up and ready to go!

Jessica, Michelle, and I headed into town and walked straight up to Edinburgh Castle. The castle sits atop a rock that was formed

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

from an ancient volcano, similar to the origins of Arthur’s Seat. The rock has been occupied since the 2nd century AD, and there has been a castle there since the 12th century. In the 1600’s, the castle, due to its excellent natural defenses, became heavily used as a military fortress, and many of its buildings were destroyed, though later rebuilt.

One notable exception from the castle’s destruction is St. Margaret’s Chapel, which is still standing from the 12th century, and is the oldest building in Edinburgh. Though the chapel is small, it is still used for weddings and ceremonies today.

Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle

We toured the castle grounds for several hours, and saw all of its main attractions – the One O’Clock Gun was a bit startling! Every day at 1:00pm the master gunner fires off the cannon, and the girls and I wanted to see this. So right before 1, we went to the area and found a bench… all of a sudden, right in the middle of our conversation, BOOM!! I think all 3 of us jumped a foot – guess we should have paid more attention to the time! We also toured the various museums in the compound, including the National War Museum and the Dragoon Guards Regimental Museum, which were excellently done. The military prisons where POWs were housed were both fascinating but also a bit spooky to set foot in. But the crown jewel of the day (no pun intended) had to be seeing the Crown Jewels of Scotland, also called the Honours of Scotland. I highly encourage you to click on the link and read more about their interesting history – they are the oldest regalia from the British Isles, and the crown, sword, and sceptre date back to the 1400 and 1500’s.

I hated to say goodbye to the castle, but we soon walked back down the Royal Mile and began to shop, shop, shop! Obviously the most popular selling items are tartans and other clan-related regalia. I treated myself to a (very expensive!) Harris Tweed bag. (Ignore what’s in the parentheses, Mom). Harris Tweed items are handwoven in Scotland from pure wool, and their trademark is the oldest registered trademark in the UK. Fun Fact: Harris Tweed is actually protected by an Act of Parliament – the Harris Tweed Act from 1993,which provides strict outlines for the conditions in which the cloth is made. See? I wasn’t just buying a satchel – but also supporting these true Scottish artisans. At least that’s what I’ll tell myself when my bank account is mysteriously empty once I return home…

The girls and I decided to stop for lunch at Deacon Brodies Tavern, which is named after William Brodie, who was one of the inspirations behind Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day, Brodie was an upstanding citizen who even served on the town council, but by night he turned to drinking and gambling; this escalated until Brodie turned towards burglary to settle his debts, and eventually he was caught and hanged. I’m happy to say that there was no mischief about in the

Haggis, neeps, and tatties

Haggis, neeps, and tatties

tavern, and we all had a lovely lunch. AND, you all would be so proud of me – I, Taylor Christine Atkinson, quite possibly one of the pickier eaters on the planet, tried HAGGIS! And… brace yourselves… I actually LIKED IT! We ordered a dish called “Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties,” which turned out to be haggis, turnips, and potatoes, and all very tasty.

Refueled from lunch, we decided to keep shopping. One store actually makes some of their items in the lower level of the building, and you can go down there to see the process yourself. The machines were busy, busy, busy whirring away making two different clan’s regalia.

Weaving clan regalia  Before we knew it, it was pouring rain down on the Royal Mile, so we ducked into an ice cream shop for a break and a treat! Then Jessica and I introduced Michelle to Primark, which is pretty much the British version of our Forever 21 stores, aka cheap clothing (both in price and in quality!) It wasn’t long until it was dinnertime and we decided to eat downtown before heading back to the dorms. By this time we had walked down the Mile a bit, and I just happened to look up and see that we were standing in front of The World’s End pub. Who cares, right? It’s just another pub. WRONG!

See, I have a favorite book series – it’s called Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon. (It’s actually being turned into a TV series and will debut on Starz on August 9th). Though impossible to summarize, I’ll try: It’s a bit of a mix of historical fiction, romance, and sci-fi, and follows the British nurse Claire, who served in World War II, with her husband Frank. After the war, while on a second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland, Claire visits the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, where she time travels through the stones and winds up back in 18th century Scotland. There she meets a man named Jamie, they fall in love, yada yada yada, you can see where this is going… At any rate, the series is phenomenal – GO READ IT!

Sorry for the diversion- The World’s End pub is mentioned several times in the Outlander books, so I was thrilled to be there. The

Rules of the Tavern

Rules of the Tavern

pub is small on the inside, but their cider on tap was delicious, as was the food! My favorite part was the Rules of the Tavern conveniently posted above my head, reading “No urchins, vagabonds, thieves, or sellers of seditious tracts… All claymores, battleaxes, swords, and flintlock pistols to be left at the door.” Good thing I left my sword back at the dorms!

Despite the rocky start, today turned out to be a truly awesome day! Though I would have loved to have seen Dunfermline, I knew I would have regretted spending more time in Edinburgh and experiencing everything it has to offer. I’m unbelievably excited that Jessica, Laura Douglass, and I are flying out in the morning for Ireland, but I’m also sad to be leaving Edinburgh behind; I’ve always thought that London was the only city for me, but Edinburgh has changed that sentiment! It is the best of both worlds, providing all the history and benefits of a large city, but with a bit slower pace and beautiful scenery as an added bonus.

I will miss it.

Off to re-pack for Dublin – I must say, I’m getting a bit tired of living out of suitcases.

Until next time,


The adventure begins…

Hi everyone!

Don’t worry, I haven’t succumbed to the jet lag and time difference. Here’s an update on Day 2 in London…

Our Library Science class met at 9 am this morning for Orientation, led by our fearless leaders, Dr. Welsh and Dr. Griffis. We went over some of the amazing places we’ll be visiting this next month (Dr. Welsh promised us there’d be some surprises along the way!), played a little Icebreaker activity, and discussed some “housekeeping” details. There are 24 of us in this class – not only are we the biggest group, but we’re also the only class with all graduate students! Or, as the Brits like to say, “post-graduate” students… which is really a much more accurate description.

At 11, the entire British Studies Program met with Dr. Davies, the Dean of the program, and all of the other professors. Many of the professors were leading various themed walking tours around the city. There were so many wonderful choices, but Jade, Jessica, Laura Douglass and I decided to do the “Sovereigns and Suffragettes” tour. After a quick lunch at Pret (short for Pret A Manger, where I ate a delicious ham and egg sandwich), we set off to walk and learn!

The tour was brilliant because we discussed several (in)famous women while seeing some of the major sights around London! We started off at Waterloo Bridge,

Book sale under Waterloo Bridge

Underneath Waterloo Bridge, you can find this lovely book sale! We did not have time to stop, but I fully intend on returning…

walked past Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster, strolled beside Clarence House and St. James Palace, and walked through Trafalgar’s Square. Along the way, we saw many statues of women such as Emily Pankhurst, who fought for women’s voting rights in the early 20th century, Boudica, an Iceni queen who led several successful uprisings against the Roman Empire, and of course, the Queen Mother, Queen Elizabeth II’s mum. We also learned about the “Sovereigns,” aka the Queen Regents such as Elizabeth I, Victoria, and Elizabeth II. I’ve always loved British history, particularly the Tudors, and there’s something truly special about discussing these fascinating women while walking in the city they once lived…

Afterwards, the USC girls and myself rode the tube to South Kensington Station, where I enjoyed my first Ben’s Cookie! It was milk chocolate & peanut butter and was absolutely delicious. IMG_3124-1It was raining on and off all afternoon (typical London weather), so we took a few buses, and walked through Hyde Park, where we saw the beloved Peter Pan statue. Of course, all of us had to have our picture taken with Peter.

Despite our scrumptious cookie snack, we were starting to get a little hungry (you’ll soon find out why…), so we took the tube to Victoria’s Station, walked around, got a little lost, tried to eat at several busy pubs, and eventually found seating in a pub called Bag O’ Nails. A chicken burger and pint of Guinness later and I was good to go!

By the end of the day we had walked over 23,000 steps… almost 10 miles! Needless to say, I didn’t feel too guilty about having that cookie!

Here are a few more pictures of the day…

Big Ben

Big Ben and Parliament

Ducks and swans at Hyde Park

Ducks and swans at Hyde Park












London Eye

The River Thames and the London Eye at dusk

Hyde Park

(L to R) Laura Douglass, Jade, and myself in the Rose Gardens in Hyde Park













Say a prayer for my feet, please! I’m feeling those 10 miles…

Will keep you updated,