The Best of England in 14 Days
Keeping this simple ...JUST SCROLL DOWN
Here we are: Joe, Donna, Me (Barbara), Melodee and my husband Michael
Why did we take a Rick Steves Tour?
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
I've been on tours before and as they say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
Melodee and I took our first Rick Steves' Tour to Italy in 2012 and to this day we are still talking enthusiastically about it. It was for this reason that last fall we enticed my husband and my sister and her husband into touring England. We were thrilled with the idea of a small groups, a dedicated tour guide who can both educate us and entertain us, the quaint and sometimes funky living arrangements, the opportunity to live in places off the beaten paths of the usual tourists and Rick's quality business ethics - no surprises and no hidden costs.
So after roping everyone into taking this trip I offered them someADVICE ON PREPARING for the trip -
You should find this helpful.
- Research and purchase your airline ticket. Plan to go a day early so as to combat fatigue.
Buy Rick Steves' book on England. I'm not trying to kiss up or anything but it's been my experience to find Rick's books especially helpful. Highlight everything you find important. Rip out pages and condense them into one easy- to- carry "book" arranged in the order of travel.
Banking: Buy some Euro to get you started on the trip. 100 Euro should be just fine. Notify your bank the dates you will be overseas.
When your final itinerary arrives from Rick Steves go on line a check out the hotels you'll be staying in. This is a good time to email or call for your early check in reservation. It'll really get you pumped for the trip.
Buy packing cubes. They make for a highly organized suitcase and everything is easily accessible.
Pack comfortable clothes - those that can be interchanged to make multiple outfits. As for your clothes-- there are no Fashion Police or Sherpas on these trips. What YOU pack YOU carry. Walking shoes that are broken in are a must - you'll do lots of walking and there's nothing worse than sore, tired feet.
NEVER... put your items in dresser drawers at motels. I did it once and NEVER again - will I see the items I left behind.
Take along not one buy two electrical adapters -you may need more than one or one may fail and you'll have a backup.
if you want to use your phone to stay connected purchase a plan BUT.....hotels have internet and you can always use FaceBook to make free calls.
Don't always rely on your travel agent to update you on flight changes. Check routinely before your flight. Our flight had a three hour change. Had I not checked we might have missed our flight. And, you just end up in the last seat on the plane. Trust me, I know.
Day ZERO - Check in Days 1 &2 Welcome ... Roman and Georgian Bath
We arrived a day early as I suggested to get our selves on "British time" and to take in some things that weren't on our scheduled tour.
We found our rooms with all the comforts of home (toiletries, hair dryer!!) and my sister and her husband who arrived from Boston a few hours before us. It had been a year since we were togethers so we had some catching up to do. But not long after, my husband being the man he is, decided it was time to eat. Off we jaunted down the streets to find somewhere to dine. We discovered the SCALLOP SHELL just down the street. They specialized in seafood so my husband was instantly happy. The food was excellent, and yes, we were there a few more times before leaving Bath. I do believe this was the first of many fish and chips meals. As you see in the photos our breakfast each morning was scrumptious. All the rooms here were great and included the tiniest mason jar with yummy cookies that were replaced daily. Such a nice touch. Now note the fitbit....proof of a Moderate Activity Tour.
The Scallop Shell - 22 Monmouth Place, Bath
DAY 1 we met up with Jamie and our fellow travelers. We introduced ourselves, told where we were from and why we took this tour. It was then that Jamie told us to find a BUDDY. This was how we kept track of the group for the rest of the trip.
We had our first in-country meal as a group at a local pub, THE HOP POLE, where the food was served family style. I found the meal to be delicious and plentiful and I recall my vegetarian sister quoting is as "exquisite".
What I really enjoyed about the Pubs is that you order food and drinks then stay as long as you want. There is no time limit or pressure to leave your table.
"Check out where we checked in".
Bath, is a World Heritage Site located 97 miles west of London and known for it's curative Roman Baths. Legend has is that is was founded in 1859 when Prince Bladud, father of King Lear, caught leprosy. He was banned from the court and was forced to look after pigs. The pigs also had a skin disease but after they wallowed in hot mud they were cured. Prince Bladud followed their example and was also cured. Later he became king and founded the city of Bath. The city became a fashionable and a quite a social center in the 18th century. The baths were open to the public in 1897. People came to bathe in the sacred waters, seek healing and pray.
Most Bath's buildings are of Georgian influence built in crescent and square shape by the major architects John Wood and his son.
We found Bath to be a lovely city. Jamie took us on numerous walks and educated us on the people, the architecture, the historical Georgian gardens, the Roman Baths, and the city's history. It was like taking a step back in time. We even got to experience the Brexit. My husband being a history and contemporary issues teacher, was estatic that he could return home to teach with a first-hand account of some of the feelings of the Brits on this subject.
During our spare time we visited The FASHION MUSEUM. It chronicles the story of fashionable dress over the past 400 years and features more than 160 dressed figures. There's a dressing-up room for all ages where you can try on coats, hats, corsets, dresses and bonnets and you can take your picture against a Victorian backdrop. You'd see our photos but they turned out less than glamorous.
Melodee meets the Queen Mum
Queen Mum: "Golly, I could do with £100,000, couldn't you? I had such an awful afternoon with my bank manager scolding me about my overdraft."
Melodee: "And had I known I would be seeing you today I would have packed some not-so-casual clothes."
Day 3 Glastonbury & Wells
So last night, as in every night, Jamie posted what we'd be doing today. After a wonderful breakfast we boarded the bus for Glastonbury and Wells. We had a guided tour of Wells Cathedral, ogled over the ancient ruins and the supposed resting place of King Arthur and Genievere, had an amazing picnic with traditional goodies all presented by Jamie and Ian, our bus driver, then finished up by a walk through the little village which is known to have a few folks left from the sixties.
Today was a perfect day for opening doors to new friendships.
<----- These "Itineraries" were posted every evening. I always took photos of them to remember what was going on and as a document to go along with my photo diary.
SUGGESTION: You'll have time while at these little villages to do some exploring on your own. We went into a local church where the town ladies were having a bazaar. We mingled and had lovely conversations with them and later enjoyed the homemade desserts they sold us.
"Hey Barbara, you wouldn't happen to have any spare change would you"?
Snuggled amongst the shops was this "2theLOO"
**Always carry spare change!
Day 4 & 5 Blenheim Palace and the Cotswolds
There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea". -Henry James
We found the Cotswolds charming and nothing was more delightful than the rooms we stayed in that night. I do believe Michael and I were privy to the best room. Unlike motels in America that would been demolished, this little place was totally refurbished inside and out, yet the very crooked floors and stairwells as well as old rafters were still in place. I actually had a phone call in the dead of the night (What was my son thinking!), got out of bed and stumbled like a drunk to get to the phone. Later I laughed and recalled how lucky we were to be assigned this particular room. And since it was the biggest room of the 3 we had we all gathered early evening to enjoy tea and kibbitzing about our day.
Rain, Rain, go Away!
The skies of Britain opened up and drenched us while on our walk to Avebury's prehistoric stone circle. Note: Always carry a dependable umbrella.
Stanway House is a Jacobean manor house, located near the village of Stanway in Gloucestershire, England. The manor was owned by Tewkesbury Abbey for 800 years then for 500 years by the Tracy family and their descendants, the Earls of Wemyss and March. The then Lord Neidpath, now the 13th Earl of Wemyss and March, pursued, over a number of years, a restoration program.
Today Jamie gave us a bit of instruction on CRICKET, then we all had a shot at it. It was a lot harder to hit that ball then one would think.
Blenheim Palace One of the great treasure houses of England, Blenheim Palace was a gift from a grateful Queen Anne to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough for his victory at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. A descendant of the Duke was Winston Churchill, who was born in a small room near the grandiose main entry.
Details throughout the Palace, floor to ceiling and grounds were impeccable. Imagine having your baby sleep in this ornate cradle.
Day 6 Castles, Gardens & Wales
Conwy in North Wales
Today we traveled North to Conwy. Here we visited Stokesay Castle and toured the Trefriw Woollen Mills. I could go on but I think my pictures tell the story.
Along the way we passed English gardens, lovely fields, and cozy backyards fit for the Queens' afternoon tea.
The day we viewed the tapestries being made, the machines (multiple!) were being overseen by quite an older gentleman and let's just say, "OSHA would close them down". I know the building wasn't up to code.
"So where am I supposed to park my bus"?
Ian gets fired up!
Day 7 Sheepdogs, Castles & Highlands
I was amazed when he told us that most, of if not all, of the wool gets used for airline seat cushions in China. The wool that is made into blankets, etc. is imported.
The lanolin deep beneath the wool made our hands soft as a baby's bottom. Even Gareth, who is constantly in inclement weather, showed us his soft hands.
"The doors we open and close each day decide the lives we live". -Flora Whitmore
Each day we enjoyed getting out early before breakfast and later in the evening after dinner to see what was going on and taking photos. During our stay here we witnessed the exuburance of the locals in the pubs as they rooted for their Welsh Football (our soccer) team that was competing in the World Cup. This was the first time in like fifty years that they qualified. The floors were literally shaking as the locals chanted , "Wales, Wales, Wales". One evening were walking the wall around the city and soon found ourselves followed by a young group of kids. They were anxious to have their photos taken with us and had all kinds of questions about movie stars and pop singers in America.
Day 8 & 9 Lake District
Keswick & Bodnant Gardens
So Folks, are you prepared to take a wee walk in the forest?
"I know that we are supposed to carry our own stuff, but anyone willing to carry me?"
Keswick -The most northerly of the Lake District's major towns, Keswick has perhaps the most beautiful location of all.
Bodnant Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, spanning some 80 acres -The Garden has two parts. The upper garden around Bodnant Hall consists of the terraced gardens and informal lawns shaded by trees. The lower portion, known as the "Dell", is formed by the valley of the River Hiraethlyn and contains the Wild garden. It reminded my a lot of the Pacific North West.
A fish and chips dinner rated a "Best of British" was a treat at the OLD KESWICKIAN. And tonight after nights of refusing a choice of Sticky Toffee Pudding we tried it. Gosh, had we been missing out. Delicious!
Prior to arriving to Keswick and checking in, Jamie told us that it was a good stop to do laundry. So after checking into our rooms, we bagged a few items and walked to the laundremat. The gal there asked whether we wanted to do it ourselves. (HELLO! - we're on vacation) or have her do it. That for me was a no brainer. She grabbed our bag, added our name to it and then questioned at what time we'd like it. We opted for the next day although it could have been prepared in just a few hours. Next day we went and picked up our bag of clean folded clothes. Money well spent as it gave us time to mosey around the village.
We found BOOTHS grocery store a great place to purchase essentials we needed. They also have wonderful to-go sandwiches, treats, etc. as well as a dine-in spot.
Day 10 Hadrian's Wall
"Walk as if you are kissing Earth with your feet." -Thich Nhat Hanh
It was here that I had my "AH HA MOMENT" realizing I had made another check on my BUCKLIST. The voluptuous clouds covered the sky and there was beauty all around. As the five of us (family) devoured some special treats we called lunch. We were in awe of the majestic surroundings, vastness of the wall and the immense undertaking it was.
THIS IS A MUST SEE SPOT! Crawl up the hill if you must, it's worth it.
Today we visited Vindolanda and Hadrian's Wall.
Can You Dig It?
Yes, actually you can.
The Vindolanda trust is always looking for volunteers/ amateur archeologists interested in this project to be guides. The Vindolanda Trust has been accepting volunteers on to its excavations since its founding in 1970 and over 6400 people have benefited from this challenging experience. To become a volunteer one must first be a "friend" of Vindolanda and then apply for participation. If accepted one can expect to spend a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of a month.
The museum there had a wonderful display of articles found during digs. There was jewelry, clothing, shoes, metal masks, pottery, glass, cooking equipment, bones, etc., much of which was in quite excellent condition.
<-- Note the intricate detail in the sandals as well as the preservation. Who says styles don't repeat themselves!
"One can not think well, love well, or sleep well, if one has not dined well." - Virginia Wolf
Day 11 York Minster and the Medieval City
York Minster ...the Churchill.. Betty's...and a pallet pleasing Indian dinner
We had the privledge to dine in two restaurants that I highly recomend. Above left:Betty's This place would make Mary Berry proud!!The perfect place for an afternoon tea with dear friends or family. As you can see we had quite the variety of treats. The Wild Elderflower Bubbly was quite fine also.
Above: Then one evening meal was at a local Indian Restaurant. The waiters graciously brought us to our tables and introduced each and every entree. Notice the naan bread - quite a portion, eh? I'm thinking now that this was one of the best meals on the trip.
Pasties A delicacy invented by the Cornish Tin Miners who were unable to return to the surface. They took these easy-to-hold lunches that are now a famous treat in Britain. Typicallly, it is made by placing an uncooked filling of meat and veggies on one half of a shortcrust pasty cirlce, folding the pastry in half to wrap the filling in a semicircle and crimping the curved edge for a seal before baking. These make a great "on-the-go" snack.
York was a wonderful historic city to discover. From the aged buildings to local artisans, street performers, shops, open markets and eateries there was something for everyone.
YORK MINSTER CATHEDRAL is the second largest Gothic Cathedral of Northern Europe. Now whether you like christianity or you just don't care, you can not deny they're great at architecture.
Day 12 & 13 Westminster Abbey and London
next stop LONDON
Prior to our morning departure, Jamie asked for volunteers to ride in the taxis loaded with luggage which were headed to the train station. Three of us jumped on the opportunity! After being in the U. S. Army I learned to NEVER volunteer but I saw this as a positive moment. Yup, I was positive I didn't want to walk. Those left behind had quite a walk. Lucky there were no grumps. As you see, there was a special section reserved just for our group.
We had quite a leisurely ride stopping at multiple locations where passengers both boarded and exited the train.