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 f…
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.
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.
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!
I was thinking about the fairs and festivals I’ve seen over the years that are portrayed in English movies. I thought I would research some of them on Google and entered “Obscure English Customs”. It brought up lots of different things, some I’ve heard of and some I could never even imagine.
I pulled a dozen, from all over the UK. I got them from a large calendar of events that I thought might interest you. A few throughout the year:
January–Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, Shetland
The largest fire festival in Europe is celebrated in Scotland on the last Tuesday of January every year. A torch-light procession through the streets of Lerwick, followed by the burning of a full-size replica of a Viking longship.
Wow, I’d love to see this!
February–Blessing the Throats, St Ethelreda, London
Two candles are tied together, lit, and touched on to the necks of people suffering from sore throats.
I wonder if this works? Can’t be any worse than taking a man made chemical remedy:)
March–Tichborne Dole, Tichborne, Hampshire
The Tichborne Dole is one of the eccentric British traditions and dates back to the thirteenth century. It takes place every year on March 25th the Feast of the Annunciation (Lady’s Day). The dole was flour and it was given to the poor until 1796. From 1796 Tichborne family have given money to the church instead.
This is a nice custom to help the less fortunate. I wonder why they stopped? Let’s hope the church helped to feed the poor.
April–World Coal Carrying Championship – Near Wakefield in Yorkshire
On Easter Monday, The World Coal Carrying Championship takes place in the village of Gawthorpe, in Yorkshire. Contestants run for one mile, carrying a 50kg bag of coal. The contest dates from an incident at the Beehive Inn in 1963, when Lewis Hartley said to Reggie Sedgewick: “Ba gum, lad, tha’ looks buggered!” to which an affronted Mr Sedgewick riposted: “Let’s ‘ave a coil race from Barracks t’ Maypole.” And they did.
This isn’t a very old custom, but it sounds like a good idea after a few ales!
May–Cotswold Olimpick Games, Dover’s Hill, above Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire
An annual highlight of The Cotswold Olimpick Games is the Shin Kicking Championship. As the sun began to set on Dover’s Hill, a band of white-coat-clad competitors began stuffing straw down their trousers ready for the British Shin Kicking Championship. Competitors grasp each other by the shoulders and attempt to land well-timed blows to their opponent’s shins (between the knee and ankle). Only then – in mid-kick – can a player attempt to bring his opposite number to the ground. The sport has been practiced on Dover’s Hill, near Chipping Campden, since the early 17th Century.
June–Nettle Eating Contest Marsham, Dorset
Held as part of a charity beer festival at the Bottle Inn in the village of Marshwood near Crewkerne, the event attracts entrants from around the world. Challengers attempt to out eat the current champion nettle-eater.
July–Swan Upping (last Monday) River Thames
The Dyers and Vintner’s Companies have the right, established in medieval times, to keep swans on the Thames River. Every year the Queen’s Swan Keeper and Swan Markers from the two livery companies row in skiffs along the river to mark the cygnets (baby swans).
I imagine this is fun to watch.
August–Bog Snorkelling Championships,
Waen Rhydd peat bog, near Llanwrtyd Wells in mid Wales
The aim is to swim two lengths of the 60-yard Waen Rhydd peat bog with flippers and snorkel in the fastest time. There are different categories including juniors, fancy dress, women’s and men’s.
And this is probably funny to watch! She looks to be having a good time!
September–The Horn Dance-Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire
The ancient Horn Dance is an annual event held traditionally on the first Monday after the first Sunday after September 4th! The famous Horn Dance is performed by six Deer-men who wear reindeer horns. The dancers follow a 10 mile course and perform the ritual in 12 different locations in and around the village, whilst the musician plays tunes such as “The Farmers Boy” and “Uncle Mick” on a melodeon, with accompaniment from a triangle.
Lots of laughing and clapping, I’ll wager!
October–Pearly King Harvest Festival-(First Sunday)Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Dating from the 19th century, the Pearly Kings & Queens are a much-loved Cockney tradition. It started when a young boy covered a suit with pearly buttons to attract attention and to raise money for the poor at charity events and fairs. Other boroughs were so impressed that they got their own Pearly King or Queen.
The tradition continues to thrive today and Pearly Kings and Queens can be seen in their full spectacle at the annual Pearly Kings and Queens Harvest Festival. The annual Harvest Festival Service at the church of St. Martin-in-the Fields offers a spectacular display of historical London in all its glory.
These costumes have to be costly, even if they only use buttons!
November–Tar-Barrel Racing Ottery St Mary, Devon
Ottery St. Mary is internationally renowned for its Tar Barrels, an old custom said to have originated in the 17th century. The annual event involves people racing through the streets of the town, carrying flaming wooden barrels of burning tar on their backs.
A crazy carry over I guess, not for the faint of heart!
December–Maldon Mud Race-Essex
Hundreds of people wading through muddy lagoons and marshes around Maldon. The event takes place at Promenade Park, at 1pm, with all money raised going to local charities.
They are dedicated! Brrrr!
I may plan my next trip over around one of these, some really interesting events. You can read more about these on Wikipedia or by following my search to “Festivals and Celebrations”.
It’s been eleven months since our last visit to England, which is amazing when I think about it. The time has flown and yet it seems like we were just there. This last week I couldn’t help thinking about all of the things that I still want to see and experience.
I know I should see some other part of the world. The thing is, traveling can be stressful but going to England is not, at least not for me. It’s easy and relaxing.
I feel comfortable there, I understand the language, the transportation, the money. I love the people, the gardens and countryside, the food and the history.
And it doesn’t matter if it’s a small village, a busy city or the heart of London. There is always so much to see and learn and experience. There isn’t a week that goes by that I’m not thinking of what it would take to go back. The age old problem of time and money. I have gone back to work part time and can no longer think about going on a whim. Not that I’ve ever done that, but I could have!
I still haven’t been further north than Cambridge, there is a lot more country to explore. I love Wales and would like to spend more time there as well. Then there’s Scotland, where my father’s family, Melrose, is from. The very reason my obsession with the UK started.
So, you see, we have to go again. On top of the above justifications to make another trek over, my husband has mentioned going back every week since we came home last September! Hopefully 2016 will be my lucky trip #7. I better start saving, I have a daughter getting married in the spring as well. I tried to talk her into a destination wedding. “It would be the perfect place, if it were you getting married”, was her response. My 40th anniversary is coming up, maybe Neil would consider renewing our vows in London:)
I did a little research about Santa Pod Raceway and discovered that it’s the most famous drag racing track outside of America! Drag racing has it’s origins in America in the 1920s, it took off in the UK during the 1960s when many of the old airstrips were converted to drag strips. Permission was obtained in 1966 to turn Podington Airfield in Bedfordshire into a drag racing complex. It was very interesting to me to find that it was named “Santa Pod” after the Santa Ana drag strip in Southern California since Neil and I are both originally from Southern California. Santa Ana was the first official drag strip in America and was in operation from 1950 to 1959. It too got it’s start as an airstrip.
Today Santa Pod Raceway hosts events all year long including the FIA European Drag Racing Championships and the ‘Run What You Brung’ (RWYB) where anyone with a valid driving licence can drive their own vehicle and test it against others. One thing I’ve learned over the years, hanging out with Neil and his friends who race, is that drag racing is so much more than which car gets to the finish line first. There is skill and a lot of technical knowledge and science that goes into a run. Some of things that racers need to check are air temperature, humidity and a barometer to give a corrected altitude. Weather can change it. Also, tire pressure, wind direction and wind speed. All of these can affect how fast the car goes so that a driver is not only racing the car next to him, but racing his own preparation, skill and knowledge.
Neil decided to go up to Santa Pod because over the years he’s heard of the racing there and wanted to see the venue for himself. He was duly impressed with the operation and show that they put on.
I asked him what difference stood out to an American racer who has knowledge and experience of so many years of racing here. He said to be honest it was the size of the rigs. We all have heard in movies and life that here in America size matters. Everything has to be big. I mean look at the size of the food portions alone! When he says “rigs”, he’s talking about the car trailers, motor homes and trucks. The average length of these rigs here in America is a whopping 65 feet!
The biggest surprise was how many US cars were there. A lot of cars were imported from the US. It would be interesting to know if there are many car builders there. Drag Racing has different classes and categories such as Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Stock to name a few. Neil most recently raced in the Super Comp class. He was surprised that in the UK the cars have a whole team of up to 10 people. In America, Neil usually would do everything himself or with just one other crew member. He was also surprised that in the Super Pro category electronics were not allowed as they are here. Delay boxes, timers and throttle stops are used in that class regularly in America.
All in all, Santa Pod is a must see for Gear Heads and Drag Race enthusiasts. We are going to plan our next visit around a large event there. Neil would love to be there and compare it to a large NHRA event that he’s so familiar with here. It’s wonderful to be able to go abroad and see and compare, gain some other knowledge and meet people that share your passion!
I have been very excited lately with the choice of interesting TV shows and documentaries they are showing on American television. One of my all time favorites, like a lot of people, is Masterpiece Theater. The latest historical offering is Wolf Hall. It’s very well done. I’m not sure how accurate it is, but I do find it entertaining, interesting and a new take on a subject that’s been done a lot in the past. From Thomas Cromwell’s perspective. I couldn’t help feeling for him in the beginning: a poor man who has raised himself up to such a high place in the English court of the King. The blue bloods of the time were furious that he rose to such power due to his talent and intelligence.
I didn’t grow up learning English history like I did American history, though all of it is questionable. I think it was and is human nature to not stick to the facts as far as history goes. “You can’t handle the truth”! I’m pretty sure, just because it’s the way things are, that he was as good and as bad as all of us are. Watch the series on PBS, it’s compelling and if nothing else a good story, great English iconic buildings and costumes.
Another great show that I’ve been watching is on Netflix called A Time to Remember. It’s a compilation of old Pathe film that was shot starting at the turn of the last century and captures amazing film of life in Britain and around the world. From early airplanes, war, theater and every thing in between. Really captivating and nice to see this original film preserved and shown.
If you haven’t watched the comedy Moone Boy, you are missing a hysterical show. It’s actually an Irish show and it chronicles the daily life of a preteen boy with an imaginary friend played brilliantly by Chris O’Dowd. Just watch it, you’ll love it.
Is it just me or are the British obsessed with murder? There are so many murder mystery and crime dramas out that it makes your head spin. I found over 220 just in doing research for this article! I love it!!
A few fun ones are Midsomer Murders, Inspector Lewis, New Tricks, Sherlock, Rosemary and Thyme and of course Miss Marple. A few of the more serious and interesting are Broadchurch, Whitechapel, Happy Valley, Foyle’s War and The Bletchly Circle. That isn’t counting all of the really top notch spy shows: MI5, Page Eight and Spy which is a comedy.
I’ve finally done it, got my little story published on Amazon! Of course it’s set in England, where else would I imagine it? It’s a young adult novel about a widowed mother that discovers her late husband was adopted from England. She figures out a way for her and her daughter to move to London for a year to search for his family. She decides not to tell her teenage daughter and set her up for possible disappointment.
I’ve always been fascinated by family stories and hope I’ve presented this one in an entertaining way. Please, check it out on Amazon:
Scattering Ashes at Jane Austen’s House by Linda Smith
I love these vintage travel posters, it makes me want to travel in this kind of style. Classic:
Any year I’m not going over to England for a visit, I long for the planning and the anticipation and just to be there. My friends who have joined me there understand exactly what I mean by longing to be there. Instead I find myself looking for things that remind me of that feeling, be it my photo albums, journals, movies, or books.
Here are a few of the images that keep me going until I have concrete plans to make the journey again:
Hope you get to go soon!