My sister sent my girls American Girl dolls as Christmas gifts.  She said she sent them a while back, but due to the holidays, the strikes, etc., it only arrived at the ParcelForce warehouse just before Christmas.  After Christmas, we received a notice stating that we owed money on VAT and a clearance fee.

We were rather shocked.  Why should we have to pay taxes on gifts that have already been taxed and paid on the other end?  She spent over $200 for the dolls, $60 for mailing it, and now we have to pay almost another $50 to clear it and tax it.

After some investigation, we found out that they can tax on gifts if it is worth more than 36 GBP.  They will not charge Customs duty if it amounts to less than 7 GBP.  However, all alcohol and tobacco will be charged excise duty.

The clearance fee is a handling fee that Royal Mail and ParcelForce charge to cover their expenses: handling the postage, dealing with customs, paying import duties for you and collecting import duties from you.

I don’t know what the US charges, if anything, for similar items.  We’ve never had to go through this from the other end.

Other things to note is that VAT is charged on internet sales if bought outside the EU and amounts to more than 18 GBP.  Customs duty applies to goods valued over 120 GBP (except as above).  Exceptions apply to alcohol and tobacco in that you may still have to pay excise duty.  There are even more complicated rules for the Channel Islands.  I still don’t understand how the Channel Islands fit into the scheme of things.

Our biggest trip of the summer was going to Scotland.  We wanted to get to Inverness, and possibly all the way up to John O’Groats.  But, the amount of driving finally took its toll, and we didn’t even make it to Inverness.  It didn’t help that we only had one driver.  And, it didn’t help that although the kids begged to go to Scotland (because everybody was going somewhere far for the holidays), their primary goal was Build-a-Bear Workshop.[ad#ad-1]

We realised early on that if we didn’t go to BABW, we would never hear the end of it.  There are several BABWs in Scotland and we really had no clue where they were.  After perusing the map, we decided to head towards Edinburgh.  As we approached Edinburgh, taking the scenic route and passing through some quaint little towns and villages, we saw signs for Park-n-Ride.  We opted for this, since we didn’t want to get lost in Edinburgh.  We parked up and took the bus.  Luckily, the bus driver was well-informed enough to tell us exactly where BABW was, and even took the time to make sure we got off at the right stop.  It was a very hot day and the BABW was stuffy. I was very disappointed that they used all their money to get a bear.  And, instead of dressing it up in traditional Scottish dress (since we were in Edinburgh), our younger daughter spent her remaining money on a simple T-shirt.  After that trip, we thought they’d focus on seeing a bit of Scotland, but all they wanted was to get home as soon as possible to log their new friends into the computer.  Uugh!

We walked around the square, took some pictures of the castle and the Scott (Sir Walter Scott) monument.  There was music coming from the castle and we wondered if there was a festival or some event going on.  We didn’t see any advertisement anywhere, though.  The streets were crowded, and it didn’t help that they were doing construction work on a light rail in the city.  The heat was making all of us tired, so we go back to the car and drove out of town.

Since we saw Edinburgh Castle, we thought, “Where is Balmoral?”.  We had just purchased a new map book, and it showed the location of Balmoral, so we decided to head in that direction.  We headed out towards Perth, crossing the Firth of Forth bridge (the Forth Road Bridge, that is), one of the longest suspension bridges in the world.  At Perth, we took a wrong turn and started heading towards Dundee, but we eventually found our way to Braemar, in the middle of the Cairngorn Mountains.  Balmoral is in the heart of the Cairngorn National Park, near Braemar.  Though the mountains of Scotland may not be as rugged and high as the Alps or the Rockies, we could sense the desolation of the High Country as we drove through.  Besides the ski resort, we saw no signs of habitation for miles and miles.  The only living things were sheep, some grazing right next to the road, and some birds of prey flying overhead.  Nearer to Braemar, some campers had pitched their tents near a river.  It was quite cold, but we regretted not bringing a tent.

We stopped in Braemar for a bit and walked around the town.  Then, we got back on the road towards Balmoral.  At one particular bend in the road, a few miles away, we saw the top of what looked like the tower of a castle.  But, we couldn’t see it again, so we couldn’t be sure.  When we drove up to the road to Balmoral, we discovered that the castle had been open to the public, up until two days before we arrived.  We drove down there to see if we could see it, but the gate was closed and a guard was nearby, looking rather laid-back and playing with his phone.  We drove on down and turned around again, and the guard looked up at us questioningly (we must have disturbed his texting).  Back on the main road, we were just about to turn onto the road to Inverness when we decided to start heading home.[ad#ad-1]

The kids half-heartedly protested.  But, they had been asleep on the drive through the Cairngorns, so we told them they missed the tortuous, hilly roads that made their stomachs turn.  It was like a roller coaster ride for them, and by the time we reached Perth, they wanted to go through the mountains again.  We stayed at a B&B in Perth and spent the next morning looking around the town.  It was quite nice.  After that, we headed once again for England.