From the first visit I made to England for a family reunion with cousins I didn’t actually know, I have been looking for interesting things to see and do. Truthfully, when I’ve gone for the sheer purpose of visiting family and friends it’s been wonderful.
However, my cousin and I had kicked around a few “theme” ideas over the years, ie: the rock and roll of our youth, movies, books and authors, hiking, castles, etc., and also the different areas around the country including Scotland and Wales So, with that idea in mind I set off in search of themes or specific areas to visit. The first installment is north to south on the west side of England and into Wales. These are very loose suggestions because people have their own interests and preferences which are easily researched on Google. I mean only to highlight some of the history, famous things to see and do and maybe a few quirky things as well. I’ll put in web addresses and current prices when I can, please understand that these can change at any time.
York to Cornwall
I had an email from a friend of mine wanting suggestions for a visit from York in the north of England, to Wales and Cornwall. I appreciate the vote of confidence so have decided to start my series with that, this one’s for you Pla’.
We’ll start in York, a beautiful city in it’s own right. For less than $20 US dollars you can take the city bus tour, there is live commentary from April to October. If you’ve read my blog before, you know I’m a big fan of a live tour guide. The history and stories are more meaningful when you have a real, animated person telling them. Also, with the audio you take the risk of not being at the place they are talking about because of traffic and other human delays. This kind of bus tour is a good place to start in any new city you visit. You get the lay of the land, a good overview of the city and find lots of things you might want to see but wouldn’t know of otherwise.
There are plenty of walking tours, including history and ghost tours. Don’t miss “The Shambles”, York’s oldest street with fifteenth century buildings. Lots of shops, restaurants and history to see here. I would definitely get the York pass when going. It’s around $55 US dollars, but you get entry into thirty of the top attractions. Visit the York Maze for some fun, there’s ice cream and you can picnic there. York Minster is included on the pass, it’s history and craftsmanship are worth a look. I can’t list them all, but a few that sound interesting are the York Dungeon, Chocolate Story, many manor houses and museums, a brewery, air museum, Roman bath and many others. Something for everyone, go to http://www.yorkpass.com.
From York head to Liverpool by train or drive on the M62, it takes about two and half hours. I like driving because you can see the countryside at your own pace and stop at anything that looks interesting to you. If you haven’t taken the chance of driving here, I can tell you from experience that you get used to it quickly. It’s easier with two, one to drive and the other to gently remind you to stay in the left lane and also look at maps and signs. Start in a more rural area and work your way up to cities. I’ve driven in London and though it’s quite stressful if you aren’t used to it, I am here to tell the tale, so it wasn’t too bad!
Pla’ and I are both huge Beatles fans (see post of June 6, 2014) and going to Liverpool has been a dream of mine since the 1960s when I saw them on the Ed Sullivan show and listened to them on the radio, my transistor held against my ear. A good start is “The Beatles Story” in the Albert Dock, a visitor center dedicated to that group. You should allow several hours because there’s so much to see. Albert Dock is also where you start the “Magical Mystery Tour”, a bus tour of Beatles landmarks like Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. The National Trust also runs a special tour of John and Paul’s childhood homes. You actually go inside and see where they grew up! There are so many different tours and things to see, clubs where they played, restaurants, streets and museums. Worth a visit if you have appreciated their music over the years.
There is a lot to see here even if you aren’t a Beatles fan. Liverpool is officially the “World Capital of Pop”, so consequently lots of music, theater and nightlife. There is the Merseyside Maritime Museum, beaches, lots of sports venues and a modern cathedral. You can still catch a “Ferry Cross the Mersey”, from Liverpool across to Birkenhead, about a 40 minute trip each way. There are also tour options if you’re interested in the history of the canal and ferries, go to http://www.merseyferries.co.uk.
Leaving Liverpool for Wales, you will be looking at an over three hour drive on the A483. You might want to plan it out so that you’re stopping for lunch around noon or leave right after lunch in Liverpool so you arrive before dark. I stopped in Wales for a nice pub lunch at the wrong time and they were closed to anything but a cup of tea. I’m not sure if this is the same everywhere in that area, but take along some snacks just in case. I loved Wales, it’s beautiful and easier to drive for an American, better placed signs than I found in the countryside of England where often, by the time I read and understood where I wanted to turn, I was past the street I needed to turn on. Thankful for roundabouts!
You don’t have to go deep into Wales to appreciate this tiny country. Visiting from America, few of us have the time to see everything we want to see in one trip. So to get a taste of it, you can see some of it on the way down and stop in Brecon for a night or two. Right on the edge of Brecon Beacons National Park, the country features incredible beauty. There are National Trails for walking, wildlife, caves to explore, cultural heritage, dark sky venues for stargazing, and market towns. If you’re a reader there is a town of books, Hay on Wye, where you can spend many hours perusing as many books as you like. Watching TV there is also fun, lots of the stations are in Welsh but there are also English stations if you just want to stay in and relax a bit.
One of the places that I love right over the Welsh border is Gloucestershire. So much history and many wonderful sites to visit, beautiful gardens and good restaurants. Some highlights are the Gloucester Cathedral, Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens in Burford. Burford is a gorgeous place to visit, quaint, friendly, great cream teas and shops to stop in. Hidcote (Chipping Camden) and Highgrove (Tetbury) Gardens are both outstanding ways to spend a couple of hours outside, looking at natures beauty, even if it is man made nature. So well put together and a nice way to unwind if you’ve visited busy towns or cities with it’s traffic.
The Cotswolds is an area in south central England which encompasses from just south of Stratford-upon-Avon to just south of Bath. I love the names of the towns and villages here so much and always wonder what they originally meant. Some of my favorites are Chipping Sodbury, Lower Slaughter, Wotten Under Edge, Stow-on-the-Wold, Wantage, Northleach and Painswick. I will look out for a book about the village names on my next visit. The villages here are so iconic, just what we Americans think an English village should look like. The yellow stone of the buildings, covered in wisteria provide lots of photo ops. Many nice shops and cafes here to enjoy. There are too many to list, but if you’re a movie buff like me there are tons of places to see here that were used in movies and TV. Check out www.cotswolds.info/places/ for interesting things to do here and look under “film and tv locations” to pick some of your favorites. Glouster Cathedral=Hogwarts, I’m just saying!
Going south to Cornwall via the M5 and A30, it’s close to a four hour drive so you want to start early. There are so many places to see this way, you can pick and choose according to your interests. I think I would just enjoy the ride through the moors and choose a nice place to lunch, making a few stops for photos or things that look interesting in the moment.
The Cornwall Moors
You could go all the way to Land’s End if your interested, great photo ops here. If you’ve ever read the novels of Daphne De Mornay, you will love exploring Cornwall. In fact, if you have time before or during your trip, pick up a copy of “Rebecca” or “Jamaica Inn”, wonderful stories that help put the place in context. Be sure to stop in the Lizard while in Cornwall for some of the best Cornish Pasties anywhere! There are lots of villages and towns between here and Highclere Castle on to London.
Heading north on A30 and A303 to Highclere Castle for us “Downtown Abbey” fans is a must. Stopping along the way at Stonehenge is something everyone should see, it’s really mind boggling to listen to what history they actually do know and imagine how long humans have been visiting this place. Also, not a little shocking to see the cars speeding by so close to where the stones are standing. It’s about a three hour drive depending on where you left Cornwall. It can be windy out here in the open, you might want to tie your hair back or bring a wind breaker as it can also be a bit cool.
From Stonehenge to Highclere Castle, located outside of Newbury, on the A303 and A34 is about a forty minute drive. Plan to spend a half day visiting the castle and walking around the beautiful grounds where this amazing series was filmed. You should buy tickets in advance as soon as you know you’re going, if not, you take a chance at being turned away when you arrive. Enjoy the guided tour of the house, tea in the garden and walking around the grounds. The tour including the castle, Egyptian exhibition and grounds is currently £22. There are a couple of offers for having tea here. You can spurge and have tea in the coach house. Tickets are priced at £25 per person, over age 18 only. You must buy these tickets in advance as well. There are many other tea rooms on the grounds, open from 10:00am to 5:00pm during open times, serving coffee and tea made in the Castle kitchens. The tea rooms are also open for hot, light lunches from noon until 2pm . You can get tea and scones as well.
Looking down at Highclere Castle
From Highclere to London on the M4 (which has tolls) or the M3 (which takes about twelve extra minutes, is about an hour and a half drive. I’m not going to list all of the wonderful things a person can see and do in London. I just like being there, having tea and people watching. Of course there are many historical and amazing things to see and do and easily researched by your individual interests, but London needs an entire blog on it’s own. Enjoy and take in all you can, there is no place like London!
View of the Thames and the Shard in London