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9.15.2017

Connecting with my family and personal history in the U.K. with Kia


Disclosure: Kia Motors UK provided me with a vehicle for review purposes.  The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.  I was not financially compensated for this post.

Last month, our family spent two weeks driving through the U.K. (England, Wales, and Scotland) in a trusty-but-luxurious Kia Optima Sportswagon. In the coming weeks I will share detailed reviews and recommendations of the sites and destinations we experienced, as well as a full itinerary and route for our road trip. 

Today, I want to share about the parts of our trip that inspired it in the first place: a journey that would connect my family with our past, to discover and experience more of our personal histories. My husband to connect with his ancestral heritage in Scotland, mine to reconnect with my country of birth in England, and my sons to have their first physical connection to all of it. This was only possible through a road trip and time spent to explore and discover. That gift was made possible in part to Kia Motors UK, who, after spending time learning about the new Kia makes and models in the USA, offered me use of the Optima Sportswagon for our epic two-week adventure.

Our family is no stranger to a good road trip, as we take at least one a year in the US.  The hubs and I have even done a few on our own internationally.  This trip was different, however.  We had more time.  We had the opportunity for our two kids to experience it all with us.  And we had the makings of a trip that could prove deeper and more profound than what we usually experience through travel. 


The choice of car was key for this trip, with being on the road this long, and on unfamiliar roads (we had to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and car, which we hadn’t experienced since our road trip in Ireland four years ago). We needed something that would comfortably fit our family of four plus two weeks’ worth of luggage, but without being too large for small country roads.  We needed something with good gas mileage, with petrol costs being as high as they are in the U.K. currently. Safety, without question, was another pre-requisite.  While I have already been eyeballing the Kia Optima in the US based on style and performance, the specific requirements for this trip were also met soundly with the Sportswagon version (not available in the US – sorry stateside friends!).  This vehicle had the same look and performance of the standard Optima, but with extra space for cargo and passenger comfort resulting from the Sportswagon body style.  This car led us on our journey very comfortably, as you’ll read more about.


The journey began for us in London.  Now, driving in London is not for the faint of heart.  In hindsight, we might have gotten our car at the end of our time in London, before departing for our next destination.  That being said, the Optima Sportswagon was a fortunate choice given its safety features like a reversing camera and Blind Spot Detection to navigate the narrow, crowded roads and teeny tiny parking spots.  We safely made our way around to visits with our London friends, sight-seeing, and giving our boys their first ever afternoon tea experience to introduce them to British culture.  Stay tuned for more on these activities in the coming weeks.



While London is certainly fab (again, you'll see more recommendations on fabulous things to do in London with the family on the blog in a few weeks), and a great way to start introducing the kids to the culture and history of the country where I was born, we couldn't wait to get out on the road.  We departed London for Devonshire on a Friday to spend the weekend there with some good friends.  It was getting on the road where we got to fully appreciate the car's built-in navigation system (which even included accurate updates on the speed limit) and the Bluetooth connection for my phone music apps.  The boys even benefited from the USB port in back to keep their devices charged without us all having to share the charging ports in the front seat.



Our weekend in the quiet countryside of Devon was an idyllic experience.  The Optima managed well on the country roads, which were so narrow at times that I was grateful we had a car that was still compact in size (though interior space was not lacking).  We even experienced a "country traffic jam" while waiting on a herd of cattle to cross the road while on the way to the coast at Lynmouth.  There, we had fish and chips by the seaside and the boys splashed around in the ocean.  It was in Devon that I also had the best scone of my life, along with the delectable clotted cream for which the region is famous.

Devonshire was simply lovely in nature, people, and pace.  And this is to say nothing of the incredible showing of stars you get here at night being a few hours away from the bustle of London.  It was here in Devon, among the great hospitality of our friends, that I started feeling a deeper affinity with my country of birth.  While I was an outsider in many ways for not having grown up there, I couldn't help the sense that I belonged.  That these were my people, and this history is somehow mine as well.




Our journey took us next to Wales, where we were in seek of castles and dragons.  Exploring the castle ruins at Dryslwyn was such an engaging way to educate and immerse the boys in U.K. history and imagine times gone by.



After just a day exploring Wales (stay tuned for more on the blog in the coming weeks), it was back through my home country as the trusty Optima Sportswagon took us through Northern England.  The flexibility of being on a road trip allowed us to have an impromptu picnic as we drove through the Lake District.  The boys could stretch their legs while we indulged in the scenic views, and the great grab-and-go lunches we found at a service station of all places.  The U.K.'s easily accessible service stations were a frequent stop of ours whenever we were on the main highways.  We could always count on them for clean restrooms, coffee, fast food, petrol (though rarely needed with the impressive gas mileage of the Optima), and basic necessities while on the road.



After spending time in Northern England, we changed gears figuratively while changing playlists literally.  After some time in Liverpool listening to The Beatles and classic rock mixes, we changed to bagpipes and Highland music with ease through the Optima's integrated Apple CarPlay and streaming music from my iPhone.  The soundtrack made for a romantic drive in the on-again, off-again rain as the surroundings became greener around us as we drove into Scotland.


While there was much of Scotland we were eager to explore, we had an important first objective to accomplish soon after we arrived.  We had to see Dunderave Castle, which was once the seat of the MacNaughton clan, my husband's ancestral clan heritage.  Dunderave Castle, which sits on Loch Fyne near Inveraray, is now a private residence, but for centuries acted as a house for the clan chiefs, then later for descendent nobles.  After being lost to the neighboring Campbell clan in the late 1500s (in what is actually a very romantic story of lovers from the rival clans running off together to avoid an arranged marriage to another Campbell clan girl that would have cemented the alliance), Dunderave eventually made its way back into hands of MacNaughton descendants, then restored in the 1900s to serve as a more modern home.  The structure still stands strong to this day.


For my husband, it was magic to look at the castle and take in the scenery of everything on and around Loch Fyne.  We ate local food (with seafood harvested from the loch), drank local brew (delicious Loch Fyne ale), and watched the sunset over the loch, all while imagining generations of MacNaughtons and Weirs having similar experiences in the same spot.  My husband felt a connection, as if the passage of time didn't matter.  He felt he could have been a part of this place.  It felt comfortable, but with an incredible depth resulting from a long-rooted identity.  We drank it in.  



We spent the night at a local bed and breakfast on a neighboring loch (Mambeg Country Guest House; review coming to the blog in a few weeks), where we got to experience our first Scottish breakfast of the trip.  This helped immerse us further in the culture, and as we are not timid eaters, we happily enjoyed the black pudding and haggis, along with the rest of the hearty fare.


Not long after breakfast, we hopped back into the trusty Sportswagon to drive through the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park as we made our way deeper into the Highlands towards Inverness.



It had been a bucket list item of mine to visit Loch Ness since I was a child.  It can't be put into words how magical it actually was to be wind-blown on the edge of this massive and picturesque Highland loch, watching my boys ardently hunt for the mythical Loch Ness Monster.  This moment is one that I will never forget.


We spent the next few days in the Highlands.  I really can't verbalize the beauty of this place.  I could not do it justice.  My memory can barely do it justice.  It's just something you have to see with your own eyes.  We spent time driving the scenic Old Military Road, where elevation changed frequently, roads were windy, and sometimes too narrow for more than one car to pass.  The Optima could handle it, and the scenery was unmatched and well worth the extra driving time and effort.  As we took in the rolling green and purple hills (I was surprised how purple Scotland was!), I wondered if at some point long ago, there was a MacNaughton descendant of my husband's who may have resembled him, on horseback galloping through these same hills.






The rain broke up enough for us to enjoy views, and provided the recipe for the most perfect rainbow I have ever seen in my life.  


Our time in Scotland was magic, but destined to come to an end (but not before spending some time in Edinburgh - stay tuned for more on that).  Thank goodness we could get so far on a tank of gas in the Kia (despite the hilly terrain), because there weren't many places to stop in the Highlands on the Old Military Road.  Not to mention the incredibly high petrol prices in the U.K.!  Fuel efficiency is even more important under these circumstances, and this was one of the biggest benefits of the Optima Sportswagon.


Arriving back to England, back to my roots, the trip continued it's romance.  One of the best moments was when our little family hiked to Stanage Edge in the Peak District.  While the boys chased after sheep, I got to have my own real-life Elizabeth Bennet moment.  The countryside up here resembled Scotland quite a bit in its shades of green and purple.  Also like Scotland, photos could not do justice to how these views are to behold with your eyes.


Quite in a romantic daze, we headed off to the final bit of our trip.  We went southward on the English coast towards my childhood home in Saxmundham.  While there wasn't much to see of the old house by the time we arrived late at night, we got to stay in an inn circa 1650 and take in the surrounding area as I tried to imagine what life would have been like had my family not moved to the US.  Life still felt very old-fashioned and customary here.  I guess when your town and buildings are hundreds of years old, you find that the pace and ways of life have long histories that helped shape the local lifestyle of the current day.


On our final morning, we did a quick drive-by of RAF Lakenheath, where I was born, and where my parents worked in the Air Force.


The rest of our drive back to London and Heathrow airport was rather quiet.  Sitting in the London morning commuter traffic was a bit of a wake-up call to welcome us back to big city life.

We delivered our car back to Kia and said goodbye, for now, to the United Kingdom and the very close physical touch we all had to our histories.  While the physical connection ended as our plane took off, the emotional connection to our past took its firm-hold, and will forever be a deeper part of each of us.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  


Stay tuned for much more from this trip, including details from each destination in the coming weeks.  I hope you enjoy following along with our journey!


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