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Trip Report Eight Weeks in England with a Detour to Venice

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We recently returned from one week in Venice (Mar. 27-Apr 3, 2013) and eight weeks in England (Apr 3-May 29, 2013). Since I’ve previously clogged up this site with my trip reports, I’ll just jot down some highlights from this last trip and if anyone has any questions, I’ll be glad to answer them.

We flew Air Canada from Calgary to Heathrow (Mar 25), stayed overnight at the Doubletree Hilton near the airport, then flew the next morning on British Airways to Venice.

Would recommend the Doubletree Hilton (http://doubletree3.hilton.com/en/hotels/united-kingdom/doubletree-by-hilton-hotel-london-heathrow-airport-LHRCLDI/index.html),
for a one-night stay only. Friendly staff, reasonable online rates, served by Hoppa Bus #7, 15 minutes from Terminal 3. About 30-40 minutes from Terminal 5. Rooms, however, made me think of Moscow hotels in bad spy novels, including smelly drains. And you pay for Wi-Fi.

In Venice, we did nothing but wander, eat, take photographs, and gobble gelato. We rented the Apartment San Sebastiano from Venietam, The Red House Company - http://www.venietiam.com/Apartament.aspx?id=24. The apartment looked exactly as it does on the website. Cost us about $1500 Can., which is expensive for us but it was over Easter. Would highly recommend. The company representatives were quick to respond to my emails – my favourite, when I was worried that we might not find the address, “Do not despair, we have never lost a guest.” The apartment was immaculate, right on a canal, and not far from the San Basilio vaporetto stop. We loved the neighbourhood, had the “aqua alta” creep into our foyer twice, and never once stepped into St. Mark’s Square.

Two restaurants I would heartily recommend: Ae Oche on the Zattere (I licked the plate that the bruschetta was served on after we’d finished), and Ristorante Maliban in Cannaregio – the Tortellini Panna e Prosciutto was exquisite.

We flew back to Heathrow at the end of the week and took the The Airline Bus to Oxford http://www.oxfordbus.co.uk/main.php?page_id=23. Cost us £42 for the two of us one-way (my husband qualified for the senior rate) and I booked and paid online. Needed to show confirmation number and credit card I’d used to book ticket to the driver. My husband was disappointed that he wasn’t asked to prove he qualified for the senior rate.

In Oxford, we stayed Apr 3-5 at the Mercure Eastgate http://www.mercure.com/gb/hotel-6668-mercure-oxford-eastgate-hotel/index.shtml. Great location on the High Street, we paid £118 per night online, and Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to eat in the restaurant. But very small room, higgledy-piggledy stairs and hallways, dirty rug in room, and morning cleaning staff don’t understand the concept of “Do Not Disturb.” Would only recommend if you were able to get a heck of a deal and only care where the hotel is, not what the room looks like.

In Oxford, we wandered, sampled pubs, checked out some of the colleges, and I went on the Upstairs/Downstairs Tour of the Bodleian Library - http://www.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/bodley/about/visitors/individual/extended. My husband said he would rather eat ragu off the hotel carpet. Would heartily recommend the tour for those who love books. Cost £13 and I booked online. You see the Divinity Hall, Convocation House, Chancellor’s Court, Duke Humphrey’s Library and the Radcliffe Camera. Favourite pub: The King’s Arms – my husband raved about the fish and chips. Favourite place for breakfast – The Vaults and Garden Cafe in the crypt of the University Church of St. Mary’s.

On Apr 5, we picked up a rental car at Hertz, booked through Auto Europe – all online. There’s an upper limit for how long you can have the rental car and we just slipped in under it. (We had the car for 47 days and travelled over 2000 miles – I think the limit is 49 days.) If you are declining the CDW, make sure you check that your credit card covers an extended rental. The car cost $761 Can.

From Apr 5-12, we stayed at Thrush Cottage in Kingham, Oxfordshire http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p1019307.
It cost us £350 plus £100 damage deposit and was our least expensive holiday rental. Packed full of character with wood and stone floors, inglenook fireplace, beams and casement windows. However, the central heating didn’t work - we were not told this ahead of time – and the only warmth came from four space heaters. It was very chilly – you know climate change is real when it’s warmer in Canada than it is in England. Dirty shower curtain, miniscule kitchen, lumpy furniture. If the heating was working, I would recommend - for the price, you can put up with the other stuff. But make sure you agitate early for the return of your damage deposit – it’s been 10 weeks and we don’t have ours back, although the owner assures us there is no problem.

Before we left Canada we joined Heritage Canada, the National Trust for Canada (http://www.heritagecanada.org/). We never knew such an organization existed. Cost $167 for the two of us. The card allowed us to visit all the National Trust properties in England free.

We used the card for the first time in Oxfordshire at Chastleton House. Would recommend Chastleton, although we’ve been before it’s worth another visit, quite peaceful and not tarted up. Also visited Stoneleigh Abbey (not National Trust) – they have a Jane Austen tour at 1 p.m. on Saturdays which I enjoyed on my own. Once my husband discovered that the tour was led by a middle-aged woman in late 18th century dress, he moved quickly in the other direction. Visited St Mary Magdalene church at Adelstrop. Jane Austen worshipped here and stayed at the rectory across the road. Lovely country church.

Also visited Claydon House, (National Trust), where much of the movie Emma was filmed (yes, Jane Austen, again). The house was difficult to find, we kept circling through Middle Claydon, Botolph Claydon, East Claydon, and Steeple Claydon. At one time Claydon was owned by Florence Nightingale’s brother-in-law. Florence stayed there a lot. Quite a feminine house, not my cup of tea, too much pink. Also visited Bletchley Park (not National Trust), the centre for code-breaking activities during World War II. We both were excited about going, but were disappointed with our visit. Felt as if it was run by volunteers, which it is, and different huts show different levels of commitment and creativity. Enjoyed seeing the Winston Churchill collection, World War II posters and the room where the first computers are kept. What you see is definitely not worth £28 for the two of us, including parking, but I considered it a donation to a worthy endeavour.

Did our food shopping in Stow on the Wold. Purchased a £10 cell phone at Tesco. They had a promotion where if you topped up the phone with £10, Tesco would give you another £20 free credit. You can top up the phone at the checkout counter. We thought we could do without a phone, since we’d travelled without one for 25+ years, but it proved to be invaluable. Would recommend The Bell at Stow, an upscale pub with great food and excellent service. Plus free Wi-Fi.

Would not recommend The Plough at Kingham, even though it is one of the “in” places in the Cotswolds and has won all kinds of awards. They cook everything “sous-vide” (under pressure), and flavour with medieval spices. Thought the food was damp and the set-up a bit hysterical, as if they were trying too hard. Met a charming man in Kingham that lived at “Wiggal’s Corner,” (sounds like something from Winnie the Pooh). He told us locals were boycotting The Plough because it was pretentious. He sponsored our visit to the local British Legion where he said, “the locals drink.” He also fed us his homemade cider, wow, it packed a punch! Very friendly village.

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    Oh my goodness!! - Small world. was reading along and enjoying and then hit >> Met a charming man in Kingham that lived at “Wiggal’s Corner,” <<

    I once rented Wiggal's Corner Cottage (the smaller cottage connected to Wiggal's Corner) I don't think it is rented out any more. Had his cider then too. This was back in Sept 2001 (yes, we were on the first Virgin flight out of SFO after 9/11)

    Lovely, old fashioned place on the Village Green

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    Isn't it a small world. Unbelievable. Thanks for the article ayeaye, can't wait to show it to my husband. Mr. Harvey was a real character. When I told him my last name in response to his query, he stopped and opened his eyes wide and said, "Oh well now...you're Viking you are. Bloody Viking." He was quite proud of the fact that the village was Anglo-Saxon.

    Janisj - I think you should just send me all the places you've been and then I can take a shortcut in my trip planning. One of my favourite movie lines is from Robin Hood (the one with the non-Englisman Kevin Costner). Morgan Freeman says of England, "Is there no sun in this cursed country!" I could adapt it and say, "Is there no place in England you haven't been Janisj!"

    I will post more of the trip this afternoon.

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    From Apr 12-19, we were in Westward Ho, Devon. Stayed at
    Tide’s Rest, an apartment overlooking the ocean. http://www.homeaway.co.uk/p411612?uni_id=1099205. Quite spectacular. The photos don’t even do it justice. It took forever to get there, felt as if we were at the end of the world, but it was worth it. Cost us £500, everything included.

    On the way there, we stopped at Coleridge’s Cottage (National Trust) in Nether Stowey, Somerset. A funny little place, but definitely worth a visit. The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived there but the Trust doesn’t own any of his original possessions, so they have created the experience of Coleridge. Certainly more organic or interactive than any other National Trust property. One of the docents talked my husband into dressing up as Coleridge and it was the best picture of the trip. She even got him to sit by the fire with a quill pen and pretend he was writing the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Precious. I’m laughing now as I think about it.

    The views of the Exmoor National Park were incredible as we drove through – this is Lorna Doone Country. The road into Lynton and Lynmouth is something you do only once in a lifetime. Reminded me of the Road to the Sun in Montana.

    Didn’t do much in Westward Ho except – you guessed it – wander on the huge beach, eat Whippy ice cream, and watch the surfers. Nice, little community. Definitely geared for the summer season when it’s probably a mad-house, but in April it was quiet with its own goofy-golf charm. Rudyard Kipling went to school here. Nearby villages of Appledore and Bideford (Charles Kingsley lived here, wrote The Water Babies) have more charm, but busier.

    Did venture out to Ilfracombe twice. Ilfracombe has become Damien Hirst-ville. He lives nearby, has a restaurant (The Quay) and a 66-foot statue called Verity stands at the harbour entrance. Nice community, quite spread out. Wouldn’t recommend The George & Dragon pub, very old but microwaved food. We were told you needed a reservation to eat at The Quay but we walked in off the street. Expensive lunch for us (£52), my husband had the Sea Bass, I had the Exmoor chicken –too much tarragon.

    Also visited Arlington Court (National Trust) on A39 north of Barnstaple. Would recommend. The Trust’s Carriage Museum is also here, my husband was fascinated. The house is chock full of Victoriana. Best thing was a lost sketch by William Blake. Owners related to Sir Francis Chichester who sailed around the world in the Gypsy Moth. Lots of model ships and shells from around the world.

    On the way to our next cottage in Kingsbridge, Devon stopped at Castle Drogo (National Trust) in Dartmoor National Park. Do not go unless you check whether the restoration work has finished. I think the Trust estimates it will take five years to ensure that the house will not slip into the valley beneath it. Surroundings beautiful, but the castle, the last one built in Britain, is a wreck. Even after we showed our membership cards, no one said the house was full of drop cloths and scaffolding. A shock when we went through the front door.

    Our cottage in Kingsbridge was The Boathouse http://www.coastandcountry.co.uk/cottage-details/QUAY. The photos are accurate, but do not tell the complete story. We promised not to post a negative report in return for a full refund (it cost us £615 plus £205 damage deposit). We ended up staying from Apr 19-23, leaving two days early.

    Would recommend the restaurant next door, The Crabshell Inn. My husband loved the seafood chowder with scallops, prawns, cod, sweetcorn, potatoes and chicken. Said it was best he’d ever had. Kingsbridge is a busy market town with a Farmer’s Market on Saturdays with some vendors from France. Lots of people-watching, charity shops and good pubs. Can also recommend the Creek’s End Inn for a cheap and tasty fry-up.

    Also recommend Totnes as a good place to explore. Lots of character, narrow streets, shops. Heartily recommend the Anne of Cleeves Tea Room. Wandered around Dittisham, lovely, little village on the hills leading down to the Dart. St. George’s Church worth a visit – dates from 1328, the churchyard has been in use since 1198. Great photo opportunities. Can recommend the Red Lion for a pint. Have to manoeuvre through the village shop to find the outside patio, but the views are worth it.

    Our favourite town was Dartmouth, we spent two days there exploring, taking trips on the river, sampling the ale and nibbles. Would recommend Al Fresco for lunch, has a hippie vibe, staff young and friendly. You can also rent a flat upstairs. We’ve been to Dartmouth before so have sampled lots of the restaurants and pubs. This time we revisited The Cherub, a tiny pub, one of the oldest in town. Had an ale called the Proper Job. Watched crabbers reeling in their catch from the embankment – lots of local chatter.

    Would recommend The Globe Inn in Frogmore for a meal. My husband said it was the best steak and ale pie he ever had. (Believe it or not, he is not a man known for superlatives). Later in the week, when we were homeless, we stayed upstairs. Would not recommend the rooms. Friendly staff but rooms outdated, cold, and smelly drains.

    Visited Buckland Abbey (National Trust). If you are a fan of Sir Francis Drake this is the place to be. A great Great Barn, originally built by the Cistercians. Huge cider press. The house is full of sailing, Spanish Armada, adventure stuff. Rhododendrons beautiful. We were caught in a fog on Dartmoor coming home and it was very Hound of the Baskervilles. My husband, who does not enjoy literary references in the way as I do, was less thrilled as he tried to drive through it.

    I was excited to be able to visit Greenway (National Trust), the home of Agatha Christie. Last time we were in the area only the gardens were open. If you are driving, strongly recommend that you pre-book a parking space. Can do online. Or you can come in “Barnaby,” the 1940s Agatha Christie bus that leaves from Torquay or Paignton. Or by river from Dartmouth or Dittisham. The house was far too busy inside, not easy to see anything because someone was always standing in front of a display. Difficult to get a feeling of Christie and her family – Christie never wrote here, it was her holiday place. Can’t take any photographs inside. Don’t know if I would recommend, wouldn’t go again unless it was with a small group. Asked one of the docents if there was a better time to visit and she said it was always busy.

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    Ooh - I'm intrigued about the snafu w/ the Kingsbridge cottage?? It does look gorgeous but it really must have been something to get a full refund. Can't even give us a hint?

    I've stayed near there a few times - Hope Cove/South Huish area. Close enough that my shopping was in Kingsbridge. LOVE South Devon.

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    Love this trip report!

    "We were caught in a fog on Dartmoor coming home and it was very Hound of the Baskervilles. My husband, who does not enjoy literary references in the way as I do, was less thrilled as he tried to drive through it. "

    Same thing happened to us when we were driving through Dartmoor some years ago - I helped my husband drive by singing "Werewolves of London"
    He lacked appreciation.

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    Janisj - you will get me in to trouble. Did I mention that the cottage was "right next" door to a pub/restaurant? I believe cottage owners and the agencies that represent them should be honest about the positives and negatives of any property, that way you never surprise people. I would never rent through Coast & Country Cottages again.

    On the way to our cottage in Cerne Abbas, Dorset, we stopped for one night at the Bridge Cottage B&B (http://www.bridgecottagebedandbreakfast.co.uk/)
    in Burton Bradstock. We hadn’t pre-booked and were surprised how difficult it is to find a B&B when you are whizzing past on an A road. We’d been to Burton before so decided to have dinner at The Three Horseshoes while we figured out how to sleep in our tiny Punto. Just down the road was Bridge Cottage.

    Decent place. Nothing fancy about it, but there is a small sitting area and kitchen and it has Wi-Fi. Breakfast the next morning was downstairs, served by a man who must have taken a vow of silence. While waiting for the bacon to fry he played chess with an electronic machine. Would stay again, but just overnight.

    Our accommodation in Cerne Abbas – known for its mightily endowed giant on the hillside – was Honeysuckle Cottage http://www.wessexholidaycottages.co.uk/honeysuckle.htm. Cost £360 for four nights. Negatives: on the A352, needed a deep clean and you needed a PhD to understand how to flush the toilet properly. Positives: we were able to book for four days and the master bed was comfortable. Wouldn’t stay again, although we did like the area. In the town of Cerne Abbas, would recommend Abbots Tea Room – fabulous cream tea. Could certainly imagine Miss Marple at the next table. Would also recommend The Royal Oak, although we just drank there.

    Visited Thomas Hardy’s Birthplace (National Trust). Very difficult to find, you’d almost think the Trust was trying to discourage visitors. There was very little signage, just head for the town of Higher Brockhampton. You can’t park nearby, you have to pull into a small parking lot belonging to Thorncombe Wood. You can get to the cottage by walking through the forest, or by a small farm lane. We chose the lane which was marginally less muddy. Liked the cottage a lot, would definitely recommend. Not a lot to see but if you read Hardy’s stuff at all you’ll understand where his stories came from. Even today, the place seems from another time.

    Next stopped at Stinsford where Hardy’s “heart” is buried at St. Michael’s Church. He wanted all of him to be buried there but the powers that be decided he should go into Westminster Abbey. My husband thinks its macabre to visit churchyards looking for gravestones, but I was intrigued because I’d read that Cecil Day-Lewis, once poet laureate of England - and Daniel’s father – had been so smitten with Hardy that he requested to be buried nearby. After Cecil’s death his wife Jill Balcon obtained permission for his burial close to Hardy, she’s buried there, too. Would only recommend if you’re in to that kind of thing.

    Then went to Max Gate (National Trust), Hardy’s home as a married adult. Another place covered with scaffolding. Not worth a visit unless you’re a real fan. Not much of Hardy’s belongings, they were auctioned off after his death. The only thing I liked were the attic rooms where Hardy’s first Emma – “of the blue eyes” – lived. She was a bit mad, came to hate Hardy. Still feel her energy there.

    Visited Montacute House (National Trust), just northwest of Yeovil, Somerset. We’ve been before, highly recommend it. Built in 16th century, and the top floor is an outreach of the National Portrait Gallery in London, chock full of Tudor portraits. Not to leave Jane Austen behind, Sense and Sensibility with Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant was filmed here. When we visited, two men were celebrating their civil partnership in one of the rooms. English women really do wear those hats to weddings!

    Saw Clouds Hill (National Trust) before we left. House, more like a bunk-house for boys, was owned by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia. Not really much to see, but I don’t think I’ve been in a place that more perfectly represented an individual. Would definitely go again. Not far from the Tank Museum at Bovington Camp. Weird to see road signs saying “Tanks Crossing,” and “Soldiers Marching.” My husband loved the Tank Museum – I didn’t go, although you’d think I owed him for all the graveyards.

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    lovely report, thanks, rickmav.

    <<Nearby villages of Appledore and Bideford (Charles Kingsley lived here, wrote The Water Babies) have more charm, but busier.>>

    did you have long in Appledore? what did you think of it? we had a house there for about 10 years when our kids were young so i knew it well, and loved it, but i haven't been back for a year or two. I'd be interested to read what you think of it now.

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    annhig - we only spent an hour or so in Appledore. Bought a Hockings ice cream cone from the van on the quay and looked in all the shop windows. We were told in summer that most of the stores, pubs and homes are kitted out with colourful flowers, but it was so cold that there wasn't much of that. I was intrigued with the colourful doors on the houses and businesses, reminded me of Dartmouth a bit. The colours made it seem happier and livelier than Westward Ho. I would love to own a place there. A special part of England I never knew anything about.

    The next part of the trip was something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Some years ago, I discovered that the National Trust rented out apartments in some of its historical properties. Most of them are too expensive for our budget tastes but this trip we decided to splurge on three days at Monk’s House (National Trust), (http://www.nationaltrustcottages.co.uk/cottage/monks-house-garden-studio-001023/), Virginia Woolf’s home in West Sussex.

    It cost us £302 for 3 days and for that we got a studio flat attached to the main house and free access to the gardens at any time. There was no washer, dryer, dishwasher, Wi-Fi, etc., none of the “luxuries” we expect at the high-end cottages. But there was tons of atmosphere, our own personal gardener (well, actually he belonged to the National Trust but we fantasized), and a lovely, little retreat decorated in Bloomsbury fabrics. We both absolutely loved it - I would even recommend it to someone who doesn’t care a berry for Virginia Woolf.

    We started to trace her steps to the River Ouze (where she drowned herself) and this will sound corny, but I couldn’t do it. My husband did and said there wasn’t much to see except some muddy water in a canal. The movie version, in The Hours with Nicole Kidman as Woolf, was more dramatic.

    While in the area, we saw Charleston Farmhouse (not National Trust), which I’ve visited before, but since my last visit I’d done a lot of reading on the Bloomsberries and wanted to check it out again. This was the home of Virginia Woolf’s sister Vanessa Bell, her husband Clive Bell, and her lover Duncan Grant. A wonderful property run by very dedicated volunteers, definitely worth three or four visits.

    Checked out St Peters Church in Firle, where Bell, Grant and Bell’s son Quentin are buried. You could buy a ribbon to tie on a tree outside in memory of someone you love. Lovely idea.

    We also checked out St Michael & All Angels Church in Berwick, where Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant painted a series of murals from 1941-1943. They are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The artists used their daughter, Angelica, as the model for the Virgin Mary. Not sure if I like the murals, but they are unique.

    Would wholeheartedly recommend a pub in Rottingdean called The Plough Inn (seems to be a popular name in England). I had a pork and stilton baguette with chips (served in a little tin bucket), salad and chutney, and my husband had the steak and ale pie with chips, carrots, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Sloshed down with Harvey’s Best – stupendous.

    Would also recommend the Abergavenny Arms in Rodmell, although not quite as enthusiastically. Friendly pub with decent food.

    Can’t recommend The Ram Inn in Firle. The village is lovely, and I’m sure I’ll discover someone who’ll challenge me to a duel for not liking the place, but I have a low threshold for pubs that take themselves too seriously. I want to like it because it was the local for the Bloomsbury Group. We stopped here years ago and I don’t think I was impressed with it then – as I recall, it was full of aging backpackers, muddy boots and grey-whiskered labradors. Now, it’s gone upscale and I still don’t like it. I even ordered the bramley apple and mixed berry crumble with vanilla ice cream to find something good to say about it – and there were no mixed berries!

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    rickmav:

    How lovely to read another of your trip reports.

    I was so glad to read how nice Tides, Westard Ho, Devon turned out. I know you do a great deal of research before booking a holiday stay. Why do you think so many turned out to be duds this time? Do you give the owners feed back when you find a place needs a good clean, dirty shower curtain etc.

    Enjoying reading about the places you visit and the food you eat.

    Carry on please.

    Sandy

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    Hi Sandybrit - thanks for the compliment re: research, but I think our experience just goes to show that if you think you've asked every question, there's probably at least one more you still need to ask. And I think there's something to be said for getting older and a bit fussier. We really found that the prices of the self catering cottages in England have increased a lot since we were there in 2008. When you're spending that much more, you are expecting at least the level of accommodation you've had before. In 2013 we spent twice as much as we did in 2006 when we stayed for 16 weeks. Since we were surprised this time with the cleaning issues and descriptions not matching reality, particularly when it came to dealing with agencies, I decided when I started writing this report that I would be as honest - and fair - as possible so that anyone considering staying at one of the properties would have good information from me. Maybe I'm being harsh - I don't think so, believe me I'd rather come across as being super clever, having planned well, than foolish because we didn't double-check things. It never changes how I feel about England though, or travel.

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    rickmav, good report

    2008 was at the nadir of the financial crisis so prices were way down everywhere, "staycations" have grown in the UK (Brits actually holidaying in the UK) so demand is up.

    My BIL who lives on the continent and likes to "take a house" in the UK each year has seen prices rise but he actually likes the fact that many of the better houses no longer have the modern shiny plastic/metal things that some people want. He would rather have access to croquet sets than wifi.

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    we only spent an hour or so in Appledore. Bought a Hockings ice cream cone from the van on the quay and looked in all the shop windows. We were told in summer that most of the stores, pubs and homes are kitted out with colourful flowers, but it was so cold that there wasn't much of that. I was intrigued with the colourful doors on the houses and businesses, reminded me of Dartmouth a bit. The colours made it seem happier and livelier than Westward Ho. I would love to own a place there. A special part of England I never knew anything about.>>

    sorry it was so cold, Rickmav. Hockings make our all-time favourite vanilla ice-cream and whenever we get the chance, [not often now, sadly] we'll buy the biggest carton they do to bring home and put in the freezer. the streets of Appledore are lovely when they are all kitted out in their summer finery. We used to live up "One end Street" which was quite colourful, but the best one is Irsha streets where the houses are really multicoloured. it's always intrigued me how neighbours choose the different but complimentary colours for their houses. Ours was pale green so we just stuck to that. it was a wonderful chapter of our loves, but like all good things, it had to end sometime.

    looking forward to more of your report.

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    I was astounded to read of the cottage at Monk's House! I visited there 20 months ago, and saw no signs of it. I'll have to go back for sure now. Thanks for passing this information on.

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    Hi enewell - the Monk's House rental is actually a studio flat, not a cottage, located above the old garage, where you now buy your tickets. If you were standing facing the house with your back to the garden, the flat is on your far right, tucked behind and beside Virginia's bedroom.

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    From May 3-10, we stayed at Wisteria Cottage http://www.freedomholidayhomes.co.uk/cottage-details/CB576 in Cranbrook, Kent. One of the things I do not like about dealing with agencies, versus owners, is that there are always “extra” fees you have to pay. The cottage was £370. Freedom Holidays Homes charged a £25 booking fee, and £7.90 for using our credit card.

    The kitchen and living room are quite tiny, compared to how they appear in the photos. The master bedroom was spacious, reached by a narrow set of stairs twisting up from the kitchen. The second bedroom was up another set of steep stairs and was also spacious. The one bathroom, quite old-fashioned, was on the British first floor, our second. The small garden was nice, but not attached to the cottage. Parking was very tight, and the narrow lane was dirt-covered and a bit hard to find. Lovely welcome basket with a bottle of wine, and cold beer in the fridge. Three different neighbours stopped by to say hello.

    Cranbrook is a nice town, with good shopping and restaurants, and is centrally located for visiting many of the great places in Kent. Hated the speed bumps in the town, by the end of the week I was glad to leave them behind.

    Spent a lot of our shopping time in Tenterden. Long, busy main street with lots of shops and restaurants. We stayed there years ago. Recommend Prezzo, an Italian restaurant. Ate their twice. Always full of chattering people, nice buzz (to use an AbFab word). Loved the spicy lasagne.

    Had a great time at a boot sale just outside the town of Sissinghurst. Oh, I wish I could have packed up our “boot” and magically got the stuff back to Canada. Spent hours wandering, dickering a little and people-watching. Much better than our flea markets or garage sales. Spent the rest of the day at the May Fair in Tenterden.

    Spent almost a whole day in Rye, wandering up and down the hilly streets, some of them cobbled. What an interesting place. Went there to visit Lamb House (National Trust), which did not live up to expectations, but really enjoyed exploring the town. Went to Lamb House because of the E.F. Benson (Mapp & Lucia) and Rumer Godden connections, not because of Henry James, who although an Anglophile was American. I was surprised the National Trust would not celebrate the other writers who lived there, particularly since Benson served as Rye’s mayor for many years. The garden, however, was beautiful, even taking into account the cold weather.

    At the Martello Bookshop on the High Street we bought a map put together by Katharine Stephen noting all the places in the Mapp and Lucia stories that correspond to real places in Rye. Only cost 50p and we were told the Martello was the only place to buy it. We had arranged to have a private Mapp & Lucia tour of Rye, but our schedule changed, so we kind of created our own walking tour. If you know the stories, you’ll know how much fun we had.

    Visited St Mary’s Church to see the stained glass window E.F. Benson erected in memory of his parents (his father was Archbishop of Canterbury). You can easily identify the West Window because it shows a nativity scene with a black dog in the foreground. This is Taffy, Benson’s beloved Welsh Collie.

    Had lunch at the Mermaid Inn. Was sceptical since we thought it might be touristy with mediocre food, but it was very nice. Loved the pictures of Judi Dench, Michael Caine and Johnny Depp in the lobby. We shared a chicken salad and pork spareribs with corn on the cob and a Thai side salad. The seating is quite cosy, so we compared meals with our new friends. Other diners had a deli box with a sampler of little meat pies, stuffed mushrooms, a dessert, etc. A steaming cassoulet came to one table, and a huge fish and chips to another. Everything looked good. The only surreal part was sitting in a 14th c. inn and hearing Jon Bon Jovi on the radio behind the bar.

    On the way home we stopped at Simon the Pieman for cake for tea. Oh my goodness. What choices. The carrot cake with frosting was unbelievable.

    Visited Bateman’s (National Trust). Heartily recommend. Have visited before but it is my favourite writer’s cottage, belonged to Rudyard Kipling. It’s quite dark inside, so give yourself a moment to let your eyes adjust.

    Also went to Knole (National Trust). Doing a lot of restoration work in the house so if you are thinking of going make sure you check to see if it is finished. Although with a house that size, they will probably always be doing something.

    Visiting Knole provoked a heated discussion between my husband and me about what lengths you should go to restore something. After a point, isn’t it just meant to disintegrate? We were horrified to read the story in the British newspapers about the children who were burned to death by their parents, raising all kinds of issues about an under-funded, or wrongly-funded, welfare system. Instead of pouring money into long-dead institutions, should that money go towards real-life issues?

    I love to visit the homes managed by the National Trust, but I am increasingly astonished by the sums spent on maintaining them. How much stuff is still stored in National Trust basements because there’s no room? Should the stuff that is seriously falling apart be binned and replaced with other old stuff? Or should it be replaced with new stuff? The new stuff will some day be old and valuable – or is that someone else’s mandate? Are we as tourists to blame for creating a demand for “olde England?” Or is it the English themselves who are stuck in a certain time? Would it change our experience of visiting these places if things weren’t perfectly restored? Would be interested in what others think.

    Also visited Ightham (pronounced Item) Mote (National Trust). The sun came out and it was quite lovely. Always thought Mote meant “moat,” which the place has, but it doesn’t, apparently it means, “meeting place.” Would definitely recommend a visit here. Lots of rooms to see. The Housekeepers Room and Butler’s Pantry are right out of Gosford Park. And the bluebell wood - amazing. I’ve never wandered through one before in all my times visiting England. Truly amazing. I took forty pictures, but they don’t do the experience justice. Something about the smell of the wood, the quiet, the sun shimmering off the blue, and the breeze. Could have wandered for hours.

    Had seen Scotney Castle (National Trust) years before, but we returned because they have now opened the house, when we came you could only see the gardens around the ruins of the old castle. The last owner was a writer with Country Life so many of the rooms look like they came from the magazine’s pages. Beautiful gardens. Worth a visit.

    Also stopped at Sissinghurst (National Trust). We’ve been many, many times – I actually have a little booklet where I’ve jotted down gardening ideas over the years. Have used a lot of them. They’d closed the tower because it was too windy, so I tried to get warm in the Long Barn, where the library is, always my favourite room. It was a little sad to see what the long, cold spring has done to the gardens. Nothing exciting was in bloom, although it did mean that you could read the labels around the plants more easily.

    You may be wondering why we are revisiting so many National Trusts. After my spinal fusion in 2010, I didn’t know if I would be able to travel again. This was our first trip overseas. I had decided that if I couldn’t manage everything, I was at least going to see as many of my favourite National Trust places as I could. And we decided that even if everything went okay, we are getting more and more ancient, so it’s time we spend time visiting other parts of Europe/the world. This will probably be our last trip to England, so I was a bit nostalgic.

    We stopped twice in Hawkhurst to eat. We originally wanted to stop at the Queen’s Inn, a pub where Elizabeth I stopped to rest her weary feet a time or two during her travels through Kent. But it was sadly “To Let.” So stopped at The Royal Oak, just off the main intersection in town. Great food, although not much of a pub. I had parmesan chicken with an amazing mushroom sauce. My husband had bangers and mash. The couple at the adjoining table were arguing about cricket of all things.

    Did not have a good meal at The Great House pub, also in Hawkhurst (fish and chips and broccoli and leek soup). Nice looking pub, recommended by a local, protected outdoor seating. Maybe just bad luck.

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    I'm loving this, rickmav. Excellent information, and fun to read. Glad you could travel so thoroughly and see so much.

    What was disappointing about Lamb House? I guess the (late, bombed to smithereens) Garden Room would have been the interesting one.

    Annhig, I like that Appledore was a wonderful chapter in your loves. Even if you meant to type "lives".

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    >>The kitchen and living room are quite tiny, compared to how they appear in the photos. <<

    Wow, they must be really teensy since the lounge looks really REALLY small in the photo.

    Me personally - I think maintaining/restoring these grand and modest properties is absolutely essential. A link to the past that is priceless.

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    Really enjoying your report and learning much about some of the smaller NT properties that we often don't get to see as we are usually day tripping to an area from our Midland home.

    Re the NT and conservation - this is an ongoing debate but there are two main points to remember. First that the NT gets no money from the government but only from public support and secondly that only a small proportion of our old properties are preserved. Whether they are preserved in the "right" way is also always under debate.

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    Annhig, I like that Appledore was a wonderful chapter in your loves. Even if you meant to type "lives".>>

    stoke, i saw the typo and decided to leave it! [well, when we moved there we had one child and when we left we had two so perhaps it was a freudian slip]

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    rickmav: Very useful report. We are planning a trip to England next spring and are probably going to stay in self-catering accommodation - so your comments about your experiences in that type of accommodation were especially helpful. I am glad you mentioned your preference re: dealing directly with owners - that has started to appeal to me as I look at agency sites. (I don't like the extra fees and somehow I just can't believe some of the descriptions.)

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    bilboburgler - I've never heard a couple arguing about sports before. Shows what a sheltered life I've led. Much more interesting than how each person squeezes the toothpaste tube.

    janisj and spiral - thanks for your comments re: the restoration debate. Janisj - yes, Wisteria Cottage's kitchen and lounge were teeny, my husband and I had to coordinate our movements carefully.

    stokebailey - I'm much more interested in Benson and Godden's writings than Henry James, and was disappointed that they weren't given somewhat equal treatment, although perhaps Godden is not as well-known any more. You couldn't see the upstairs so were limited to three rooms, none of which were that special. (I was, of course, expecting Mallards!) But once you stepped outside the garden was lovely. Do you know why they never rebuilt the Garden Room? They have a model of it on display in the house.

    semiramis - if you have any specific questions about self catering, feel free to contact me at rickmav@shaw.ca

    From May 10-17, we stayed at Magenta Cottage (http://www.bestofsuffolk.co.uk/magenta.asp) in Aldeburgh, Suffolk. Wow! What a great place. My bones were getting a bit weary and this was the perfect place to rest them. Like Tide’s Rest, I’m not sure if the pictures on the internet do the cottage justice. The owner met us to demonstrate how to work some of the fancy doo-dads, like an ipad-managed sound system that provided music everywhere, including the shower.

    We really didn’t do much the whole week, except walk on the beach, take photographs, eat fish and chips and gaze at the views. I feel guilty (well, just a little) that we returned to Suffolk, which I’d fallen in love with on our first visit in 2006, and ended up doing very little exploring.

    I did have an interesting discussion with a young woman at The Hair Shop, when I went to get my hair cut. She quickly corrected my pronunciation of “All de burrg” to “Aldbra.” I don’t think I will ever get the hang of English place names.

    We chatted about the Royal Family. She told me that English people were slowly warming to Camilla, especially since there had been photographs of her and the Queen together. But Camilla would never have the title of Queen. She thought Charles would do all right as King. Of course, everyone loved Kate and William. I asked her if anyone thought that Kate was a dud for not seeming to have any ambition or curiosity about the world, here’s a 31 year old woman with a degree she’s never used, she’s never had a job, didn’t spend her time in hiding learning languages, travelling the world, etc. The young woman said no, the press loved her.

    She asked me what Canadians thought of the Royal Family. I said that generally we were very respectful of the Queen. But many people felt that after her death, it was time for us to stop being a constitutional monarchy.

    She said that most of the homes in the area around the sea in Aldeburgh were owned by out-of-towners, local people couldn’t afford them, which is kind of sad. She’d never been to Canada, but had gone to the U.S. She said she was surprised at how much President Obama was disliked by the Americans she talked to in Vegas. According to press reports in England, she believed all Americans were crazy about him. She couldn’t care a less about different countries in the EEC going bankrupt; she said it didn’t affect them (the English) at all. She said Americans were more worried about it than they were.

    Would recommend the scones at Smith’s Bakery and of course the fish and chips at Aldeburgh Fish and Chips. We had Chinese takeaway at the Rising Sun, which was good, and picked up snacks from Lawson’s Delicatessen and the Friday Farm Shop. The Suffolk ice cream was very tasty. The only pub we went to was the Golden Keys in Snape. Okay.

    Left Suffolk on May 17 for the Premier Inn in Croxley Green, Hertfordshire. On the way, we detoured to visit Hughenden Manor (National Trust). We’ve never been before, it was the country home of Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of England from 1874-1880. Decorated in what I call “Heavy Victorian,” not my cup of tea.

    We were both fascinated by the display in the basement. During World War II, Hughenden – codename Hillside - was the map-making centre for the RAF. There was a re-creation of living quarters during the war, and an air raid shelter. The maps produced here included those used for the Dam Busters raid.

    The reason we were in Croxley Green was because we had tickets to see the Warner Brothers Studio Tour – The Making of Harry Potter, located nearby. I told my husband while we were standing in line, “I think we are the only people here that are old and without children.” Didn’t matter, we both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, having been introduced to the stories by our grand-daughter.

    Tickets need to be pre-booked, then with your confirmation number you have to get a physical ticket from either a machine, or by standing in line. There’s a Starbucks and cafeteria inside. The first part of the tour is guided, then they let you wander as you like. But you can never go backwards, so make sure you see everything in one area before moving on to another. For those who want to play Quidditch, you can have a video made of you sitting on a broom, with a game in progress behind you on a screen. It cost about £58 for the two of us. My favourite part was Diagon Alley.

    Spent May 18 & 19 at Denmark House B&B (http://www.denmark-house.net/) in Henley on Thames. Cost £75 per night. I would stay there again, my husband wouldn’t. He was freaked out by the carpet in the bathroom, which was badly stained. I thought the place was charming, although shabby-chic/tatty in places. The house at one time must have been quite lovely, the hostess’s husband had been an architect and the Georgian house has modern extensions, including a private pool. Every room is bursting with art.

    Henley is lovely. A very busy place with a one-way system that took a bit to figure out – by the time we knew where we were going it was time to leave.

    While there, we visited Grey’s Court (National Trust). We got lost and stumbled upon Rotherfield Peppard, on my list of things to see if I had time. Here is Peppard Cottage, the penultimate English cottage featured in the movie Howard’s End. If you’ve seen the movie you’ll know how dreamy the house is, it’s located two doors down from the pub. At one time, it was owned by Lady Ottoline Morrell who often hosted members of the Bloomsbury Group. It’s possible E.M. Forster visited the house before writing his novel.

    Surprised at how many people were at Grey’s Court – probably because of the sunshine. I wanted to go because I’d just read a book by Beatrice White – “Cast of Ravens: The Strange Case of Sir Thomas Overbury.” Overbury was possibly the lover of the Earl of Rochester, who was likely the lover of James I of England. Grey’s Court was owned by Rochester’s brother-in-law and he often stayed here while plotting Overbury’s demise. The house was also associated with the infamous Hell-Fire Club, Ian Fleming’s mother, and Henry Irving’s grand-daughter.

    Drove to Jane Austen’s House Museum at Chawton in Hampshire. I saw it alone, my husband watched a strange game played by a group of young men with a large ball on what looked like a cricket pitch. Anyone know what the game might be? One thing I never appreciated about the house where Jane Austen wrote three of her novels, and edited the three she’d already written, was how it is in the centre of everything going on in the village. Austen is sometimes portrayed as a recluse but that would be impossible in that house. Like Greenway, the house was very busy, making it difficult to see the displays. Not sure if it was worth the £7.50 entry fee and £5.95 for the guidebook. Perhaps, no price is too much if you are a fan. Favourite thing was Austen’s writing table.

    Walked through the village, which is quite pretty, to St Nicholas’s Church where Austen’s mother and sister are both buried. Next door is Chawton House, the “manor” owned by Austen’s brother Edward who was adopted out to rich relatives. Chawton House is now a Centre for the Study of Early English Women’s Writing.

    Pretty little tea shop across from Jane Austen’s House called Cassandra’s Cup. The ceiling is amazingly decorated with teacups! Someone who’d been before told us to reserve a table before we visited Jane Austen’s house to make sure we had a seat. I don’t know if we needed to, the place was only half full but there were a lot of reserved signs out. I had a cream tea, my husband had the lemon cake. Both good.

    On the way back to Henley stopped at The Vyne (National Trust), a 16th century manor house outside Basingstoke in Hampshire. So many people. I suspect it was the sunshine and families had been cooped up for too long because of the rain. It was so busy that the restaurant actually ran out of food! Perhaps we’d seen too many Trust country estates by this point, I can’t actually remember anything about this place that stands out.

    May 20 we returned to Oxford and dropped the car off at Hertz. The young Italian woman at the office kindly gave us a lift to our hotel, Bath Place. Although she took a sat-nav (I think that’s what she called it) system with her and attached it to the windshield, she kept arguing with it the entire trip. My husband and I kept looking at each other, wondering if she was talking to us. We had to walk the last bit because of the curious no access system in Oxford. I didn’t quite understand, but I think she said there were cameras that recorded and ticketed drivers who were not where they were allowed to be.

    I’d seen the Bath Place Hotel on a previous trip, it is close to the Turf Tavern, and thought one day I’d like to stay there. The hotel is actually a series of cottages down a cobbled lane, almost across from Holywell Music Room. It cost £128 per night and included a continental breakfast.

    It’s so charming from the outside, perhaps that’s why I was so disappointed with the inside. The houses were originally Flemish weaver cottages, located between Hertford and New Colleges. Jane Burden, William Morris’s wife and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s muse and lover was born here. Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor stayed in the 60s. Our room had cigarette burns in the rug, a mould-covered shower and a gigantic black spider living just out of reach on one of the black beams. But you couldn’t ask for a more perfect location.

    We took advantage of the location and wandered through many of the lanes and back alleys of Oxford. We went back to the Ashmolean and found things we had overlooked. Visited the Pitt Rivers and Natural History Museums (undergoing a renovation, so check before if you are going to visit). We went on a number of walks I downloaded from the internet, including tracing Lord Peter Wimsey’s footsteps to Brideshead Revisited to Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
    And we took turns sleeping – someone had to watch for the Acromantula.

    On May 22, we headed into London for our last week in England.

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    So stopped at The Royal Oak, just off the main intersection in town. Great food, although not much of a pub. I had parmesan chicken with an amazing mushroom sauce. My husband had bangers and mash. The couple at the adjoining table were arguing about cricket of all things.>>

    lol, i missed this until Bilbo pointed it out to me, probably because it seemed so normal - DH and I often "discuss" the cricket and rugby; it gets quite heated on occasion! [I'm watching Sri Lanka v New Zealand at the moment, not a match in which I have any personal interest, but it's still a lot of fun even for an impartial observer].

    and the mention of the Royal Oak pub made me smile too- I can think of 2 others in Kent very close to where we used to live, and there's at least one near to us here in Cornwall. And they all have good food!

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    Chawton Cricket club is pretty old, 185ish from memory, so maybe they were playing an early version of the game or maybe 6-a-aside (which I think uses a standard ball) or worse case it could be "french cricket" which a beach game.

    Maybe someone else knows?

    Mrs Bilbo and I never discuss sports but we do comment on cricket.

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    rickmav:

    'Didn't do much, walk on the beach, take photographs, eat fish & chips and gaze at the views.' Sounds very nice indeed, especially when you are staying at Magenta cottage, Aldeburgh.

    Fun story about the comments of the young woman at the hair shop. Stress the first syllable Orld-bruh = Aldeburgh

    Not far from The Golden Keys Pub is Snape Maltings shops, music and walks and river trips - well worth a visit http://www.snapemaltings.co.uk

    Like your writing style. Makes for a easy read on a Sunday afternoon.

    Sandy

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    Great trip report!

    Of course the English discuss cricket - there's much to discuss. Our correspondent annhig is travelling to the other side of the world to see some later this year. I'd travel to the other side of the world to see cricket, too - if only you could get tickets to Lords!

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    Some of my British friends' Twitter accounts show that discussing cricket can become quite heated. :)

    Took a London Walks to Rye and Battle years back and loved what a quaint little town it was. The climb up to the bell tower roof at St Mary's Rye was an experience and I doubt the USA would let people climb up ladders and squeeze through narrow passages to the roof. The views are very much worth it though as you can see the countryside in all directions.

    I did learn that the old-fashion candy shop in Battle that I bought sweets from is no longer in operation. Loved picking out my candy from the jar and having them weigh it and bag it. Our little group had a minibus drive us from Battle station to Rye and on the way we went through little village with thatched roofs-one being a realty. It was one of my favorite towns.

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    Of course the English discuss cricket - there's much to discuss. Our correspondent annhig is travelling to the other side of the world to see some later this year. I'd travel to the other side of the world to see cricket, too - if only you could get tickets to Lords!>>

    Margo, I thought that I'd cracked the conundrum of how to get tickets for the Gabba when I came across a website called 'Friends of Aussie cricket" [or something like that; it needs all the friends it can get at the moment!] which enabled subscribers to get priority access to Ashes tickets. for free! However, it then turned out to be limited to aussie residents, so it's back to the drawing board.

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    Lee Ann - wink, wink
    Margo_oz and sandybrit - thanks, glad you are enjoying the report
    Bilboburgler - I hate to have to tell you but I checked with my husband and he says it was as large as a beach ball.

    We pre-booked a cab to pick us up in Oxford on Wednesday morning at the top of Bath Place lane to take us to the railway station. We travelled to London Paddington. We booked the tickets online and it cost £10.50 each. If we’d purchased the ticket at the station, the price was £23.40 per person. We also requested a “quiet” carriage, and it was lovely. (Once you get to the station, you need to go to a self-serve machine and put in your confirmation number and your credit card to get a physical ticket.) From Paddington, we took a cab to our apartment just north of Covent Garden (£18 with tip).

    In London, we stayed, from May 22 to 29, at an apartment http://www.london-hideaways.com/covent-garden-loft-1-bed.html. This was another agency-booked apartment (London Hideaways) and many of the problems we experienced began, as before, with untrue or misleading descriptions on the agency website which led to expectations that were not met. I’m not sure if my husband and I are coming across as a bit unrealistic or fussy. But let me add some context by saying that in over 25 years of travelling in England we have never once written a letter of complaint to an owner or agency. Twice, when our feedback was solicited by an agency at the end of our stay, we gave negative feedback. We have never received a full or partial refund from any of the 40 plus self catering properties we have visited. On this trip, we received two full refunds. One was from the cottage we stayed at in Kingsbridge, Devon, and the second from the apartment in London.

    First, the positives. The apartment is in a perfect location. I would definitely stay in the area again. The ex-council apartment building is located on Shorts Gardens and Endell Street, to the west is Shaftsbury Avenue, to the east Drury Lane and to the south Long Acre. We were about a one minute walk to the Rock and Sole Plaice (which we recommend), and about six minutes to the Covent Garden tube stop. Another few minutes and we were in the heart of the theatre district. There were office buildings across from us and by 5:30 p.m., everyone was gone. The apartment itself was reasonably quiet. There was a washer and separate dryer, an American-style fridge, and Wi-fi. The bedroom and living area had laminate floors and although not decorated were functional.

    Negatives – it was not clean, and both the bathroom and kitchen were disgusting. I’m not a clean freak, I think too many other things in life are more important, but I honestly closed my eyes to shower because I didn’t want to look too long at what was growing between the grout lines.
    The old-fashioned cooker had not been cleaned, or used it seemed, for a very long time. The balcony, which looks so lovely on the website, was knee deep in garbage and there wasn’t any seating for outside. There is an elevator but it was out of order for most of our stay. We spoke with the owner directly about the issues, for us it was more than misrepresentation. He was genuinely embarrassed and sorry and gave us all our money back. The agency did not return their fee (£100).

    That said, we spent as much of the day as possible exploring and enjoying London, and attended three plays in the evening. The primary reason for going to London was to see Judi Dench in Peter and Alice at the Noel Coward Theatre. (A bonus was that the actress Goldie Hawn sat in front of us! She dropped her program when everyone jumped up to give the cast a standing ovation and my husband returned it to her. His latest boast at family barbeques is “I touched Goldie Hawn’s hand.”) Didn’t realize that I'd seen many of the actors in Peter and Alice in other English productions. Olly Alexander, the young man who plays Peter Pan, for example, was on an episode of Lewis, and Nicholas Farrell, a well-known character actor, who plays Lewis Carroll was in one of my favourite Foyle’s War episodes.

    We missed a chance to see Bradley Cooper and the Hangover III gang at the London premiere of the movie. On one of our walks through Leicester Square we watched workers setting up lights and displays for that evening, but we forgot all about returning so had to read about it in the newspaper the next day.

    We also saw The 39 Steps and The Mousetrap. We purchased tickets for The 39 Steps at the half-price booth in Leicester Square and enjoyed it thoroughly. I knew the original book by John Buchan and the classic movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and wondered how they would translate the action scenes to the stage. There are only four actors in the entire play and the way they take care of the action, I thought, was clever. My husband wasn’t as sure. At first, he thought it was kind of cheesy, but then gradually abandoned himself to the humour. Adam Jackson-Smith plays the hero, Richard Hannay, as a cross between John Cleese and David Niven.

    We’ve seen The Mousetrap before but wanted to see it again because of something I’m writing. It’s not as much fun when you remember “whodunit,” but the acting was good and the setting – a group of people abandoned in a manor house during a freak snowstorm – is always entertaining. Row G in the Stalls is great, we sat against the far wall and could see everything and my husband appreciated the extra legroom. In June there is going to be a play next door at The Ambassadors called Murder, Marple and Me with Janet Prince playing Margaret Rutherford and Agatha Christie. Would like to see that.

    We spent an entire day at the Victoria & Albert. Previous visits had always seemed unsatisfactory because we never had enough time so we promised ourselves we would take our time, resting when we needed to. We ate lunch there which was tasty and reasonable. Love the Costume Collection, my only complaint is what they chose to represent modern fashion. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone in those clothes – the worst of Vivienne Westwood, Jean Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto. Beauty really must be in the eye of the beholder. The Arts & Crafts furniture, lighting, etc. in the 1900 British Galleries was wonderful. We found that the higher you went in the museum, the fewer people there were. On the lower levels there were lots of parents with small kids who were so bored, you wonder why people subject their offspring to such torture.

    Visited the National Gallery for the first time, and the National Portrait Gallery for the third or fourth time. What I like about the NPG is that they change many of the contemporary displays frequently so that there's always something interesting to see. Enjoyed the painting of Sir Francis Drake after visiting his home at Buckland Abbey in Devon; the drawing of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra; and the only portrait of Shakespeare believed to have been painted while he was still alive. Great painting of Judi Dench by Alessandro Raho. Not sure I like the one of Maggie Smith by James Lloyd, one reviewer said she looked like “an annoyed zombie.” Definitely didn’t like the painting of the Duchess of Cambridge by Paul Emsley, she looks very hard and dark. A video of David Beckham sleeping was interesting.
    The National Gallery has so much material that we found you really have to focus on a specific time frame for your first visit, and we chose from 1700-1900.

    Revisited the treasures in the John Ritblat gallery at the British Library. Again, so many wonderful things to see you really do have to go more than once. There were a number of letters from John Lennon, donated by biographer Hunter Davies in lieu of taxes. Interesting to see Jane Austen’s writing slope and spectacles after seeing her desk at Chawton. Was donated by Joan Austen Leigh, who lived in Victoria, Canada. Jane Austen was her 3x great aunt. Also enjoyed reading the letter from Sir Isaac Newton to diarist Samuel Pepys. Newton, in the midst of a nervous breakdown, tells Pepys that he never wants to see him again because he can’t be trusted. A letter from Princess Elizabeth (later QEI) to her half-brother Edward VI explaining that she keeps trying to see him but the Duke of Northumberland won’t let her. Checked in to see the renovation work at the St Pancras Hotel. Quite spectacular.

    While my husband was mesmerized by an act in Covent Garden, I decided to wander a bit. Knew Jane Austen had stayed at #10 Henrietta Street while visiting her brother Henry in London, took a picture of the blue plaque mounted on the wall. Went into St Paul’s Church, called the Actor’s Church, and a choir was rehearsing for a performance later that afternoon in aid of the Actors Benevolent Fund. I sat down at the back and enjoyed myself immensely. Vivien Leigh, Noel Coward and Charlie Chaplin are buried here. St Paul’s was the first Protestant church in London and the opening scene of Pygmalion takes place under its portico. There is a small garden where you can get away from the crowds.

    We also followed more self guided walking tours I printed off the internet - Bloomsbury, Shakespeare’s London and some Dickens hotspots.

    We noticed a lot of men – and some women – dressed up in yellow or red team gear. We discovered that the UEFA (I think I have that right) – was having their World Freestyle Football Championships at Wembley on the weekend. Lots of singing fans in the pubs around Leicester Square. Didn’t seem to be any trouble though.

    We were both horrified by the slaughter of an innocent soldier on the streets of London. Couldn’t believe it when we first saw it on television. At first, we thought it was somewhere else. A rally by the English Defence League near Trafalgar Square brought out helicopters that hovered over the streets as we walked. Was a very strange feeling, suddenly it didn’t seem like England any more.

    One incident that reassured us it really was England occurred near the Covent Garden tube stop. A man on a megaphone was chattering on about how we may all find him annoying, talking on the megaphone, but he was glad to live in a country where he could be annoying if he wanted, and that people should be wary of any efforts to prevent him from being annoying. Made a lot of people laugh.

    For all our travelling, we purchased two Oyster cards at the Covent Garden tube stop (costs £5 for the card), and loaded them with £20 each. They give them to you in a nifty little wallet that folds in half so you can easily swipe the card without taking it out. At the end of the trip we returned them and got the £5 back plus whatever we hadn’t used. Remember to bring your i.d. with you when you cash in the cards.

    Mostly ate at pubs, a few Italian restaurants, nowhere fancy. We aren’t foodies. A fellow from Argentina chatted with my husband at the National Gallery and said that he had been travelling in England for months and really loved it, but couldn’t believe what bad food there was in England. He said everything was deep-fried. We had lots of good meals while we were in England, but nothing spectacular in London. But I’m sure we could have found spectacular if we were looking for it. We did discover Scoop however, just across from Rock and Sole Plaice, serving the best gelato I’ve eaten outside of Italy. We went there almost every day! We did enjoy the potato skins at Maxwells in Covent Garden, my husband also liked the Kick Ass Burger. A busy place with an American ambience, but good food.

    Enjoyed the antique and collectibles market at the Jubilee Market at Covent Garden on Mondays. Not too many antiques, but lots of things to look at.

    Also enjoyed the pub near our apartment – The Crossed Keys. A old-fashioned pub – no kids, no meals, no outdoor seating. Lots of Beatles and Elvis memorabilia and local characters that all knew each other.

    Enjoyed exploring the shops around Neal Street. And the people watching was great. Kind of a hippie vibe going on in amongst the expensive designer duds.

    On May 29 we took a cab to Paddington, we didn’t pre-book just walked to Drury Lane and a hailed a cab in about five minutes. Less traffic than on the way in so only cost us £15 with tip. Followed the purple arrows on the station floor that say Heathrow Express and purchased two tickets from a self-serve machine. (Cost us £20 each. I would never go by tube to Heathrow again, unless I didn’t have luggage and wanted to people watch. The HEX is so civilized.) A train was just getting ready to leave, and seventeen minutes later we were rolling into Terminal 3.

    Found security surprisingly relaxed. We didn’t even have to take our shoes off. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Funny how you complain about all the hassle, but it does make you feel safer. Had breakfast at Bridges, then shopped for magazines and goodies. My husband bought Scotch and ran into a colleague from work who was returning to Canada from Nigeria. Of all the gin joints...

    I can’t believe how much carry-on luggage they are letting people bring on. They certainly aren’t weighing, measuring, or checking anyone. And if you aren’t able to board the plane early you don’t have a hope in hell of storing your bag anywhere near you. One man in line to board was so annoyed that he asked the fellow in front of him, loaded down with a huge suitcase, a gigantic backpack and a duffel bag how he managed to get through with all the luggage. The fellow nonchalantly replied, “Oh, they just look the other way.”

    Really enjoyed our trip. Had lots of adventures, saw new things and revisited some old friends (National Trust houses). As I mentioned earlier, we spent twice what we did in 2006. That could be due to lots of things, but we haven’t really changed our style of travel, so difficult to know exactly where the big hits were but suspect it was primarily accommodation and gas (we did put over 2000 miles on the rental car). We keep thinking that each trip to England will be our last because there’s so much of the world we haven’t seen – and we aren’t getting younger! Who’s to say if we’ll return.

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    Wonderful report, rickmav. Would love to have tagged along for such a trip, but this report satisfies quite well.

    You mention most of my favorite London spots that I will never get enough of. (and I loved 39 Steps at the Criterion.) Sorry about the flat; it looks immaculate on website, doesn't it?

    My daughter and I found out the hard way they are serious about having the confirmation number with you to pick up train tickets.

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