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History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

Jul 5th, 2013, 11:17 PM
  #1  
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History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

As an introduction, this trip report is the result of about 6 months planning, much of it done using the advice I got here on Fodors (thank you to janisj, indy_dad, and sooo many others) and the many trip reports I read (see above). This trip was a joint graduation gift to my 2 DDs. One graduated from high school in 2012 and the other this year and I'll have both in college in the fall. My mother passed away in 2011 and left me a little money and I wanted to use it to have memories we could make together before they don't want to hang out with me anymore! It has just been us 3 girls for 12 years now and we travel well together (luckily). We have never travelled internationally before with the exception of Canada, but that was before we needed passports and my family is from there, so we always had places to stay. We chose our destinations of London and a big chunk of Scotland because, well, its London, right? The proximity to the Harry Potter studio and the Dr Who experience certainly added to the appeal of London as a home base for a week. Scotland has been a dream of mine forever because my paternal grandmother emigrated from Broughty Ferry and I can still hear her brogue. My maternal grandmother was also scottish on both sides, although her connections emigrated much earlier during the clearances. I spent a lot of time on Ancestry.com before the trip gathering information and using documents we found in my mother's belongings. The Scotland portion was planned with where my ancestors were from in mind. We had a total of 20 days incl travel days. We had a jam packed schedule, but we may never get this opportunity again so we did and saw as much as we could.
Accomodations: We are ok with "roughing it" a bit and didn't have a big budget for this trip so we stayed in a combination of hostels, BnBs and one apartment. We have hostelled in the US with our Girl Scout troop so we had some experience with that sort of accomodation and were not disappointed in the ones we used in London and Scotland.If you are looking to save money in an expensive place ( hello London!), it's not a bad way to go and certainly not just for young people anymore. I will detail the accomodations in my day by day report. The trip exceeded our expectations and I want to give back a little in the hopes that I, too, may be of some help with someone else's trip planning.
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Jul 6th, 2013, 12:28 AM
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Day 1
We chose an evening flight on Virgin Atlantic. Price was a teeny bit better than the competitors and we thought we might sleep. Looked longingly at the full bar and first class sleep pods to our left as we were ushered to coach where the peons sit. I have no complaints about the flight or airline other than the HARD seats. Seriously, a little padding would not go amiss VA! Sleep, therefore, was fitful at best. We landed at 12:15pm in London and got through immigration in less than an hour. Got our one checked bag, hit an ATM for cash and bought our oyster cards for the tube, discovered the vast array of sandwiches at Marks and Spencer and were off to find the tube station by 1:30. Thankfully, the tube was not crowded at that time since we each had a backpack and roller bag. If we had arrived during rush hour, I would have paid extra to get a car service. We quickly learned that Londoners on the tube don't suffer slow moving tourists well. I wanted us to keep moving as long as possible, so we took the tube (a bit over an hour) to King's Cross to get our 7 day travelcards for the 2 for 1 offers and then took a bus from there to a stop about 3 blocks from our hostel.
YHA Oxford St
The hostel is located a block off Oxford St on Noel St. Oxford Circus tube station was 3 blocks away. I researched all the London hotels including the non-YHA ones heavily before deciding on this one. We are members of hostelling international so we got a discount and free wifi. The cost for 7 nights was ₤588. There is a full kitchen and we made breakfast every day and had some dinners there as well. They do have a breakfast you can purchase, but we saved money doing it on our own. There is a teeny lift that goes to reception 3 floors up, but you have to schlep your stuff up from there. We were only one floor up and didn't have heavy bags. We had a 3 bed private room with a sink. The shared showers and toilets were down the hall and there was never a queque. The place was spotlessly clean and surprisingly quiet for its location. We met some awesome people from all over which is what I like about hostels. The staff was very helpful and friendly. I felt the location was really excellent for getting to everything. I would absolutely stay there again.

Once checked in, we were off to buy payg phones for my girls from carphone warehouse on Oxford St, buy food and explore the neighborhood. We discovered we can't afford anything at Topshop, that Oxford St is a zoo and to be avoided at peak times (or at all, I'm not a shopper), that M&S was our new fave store and that pubs are every other door front it seems. Soho has a cool vibe, we liked it. We spent a lot of time that first day just whipping our heads around trying to take it all in. We were so blown away by our first glimpse of London. Back to the hostel for dinner-3 different microwave meals from M&S which were surprisingly good- showers and hopefully some sleep because Day 2 starts with the Tower of London and so much more!
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Jul 6th, 2013, 12:54 AM
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Off to a good start rmmom.
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Jul 6th, 2013, 08:23 AM
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Day 3 Yes, I know it looks like I skipped one, but Days 1 and 2 were kinda all the same day since we had an overnight flight. The list for today: Tower, Tower bridge, Borough market, the Globe, St Pauls and British Museum. I know, sounds crazy, but sanity is overrated .

Hello jetlag, aren't you fun? Eyes popped open at 2am and wide awake. Forced ourselves to stay in bed until 5. It did give the girls time to get beautified (important in case they should run into any of their favorite brit actors or musicians-like any of them will be hanging out playing tourist like us) and we had a big breakfast. British bacon is the bomb! Since we had plenty of time, I decided we should take the #15 bus as suggested on here so many times. We took the tube to Holborn and walked to the Strand to catch the bus. There was some confusion as to the specific directions(and perhaps a little crankyness displayed by all in our temporary frustration), but a handy Starbucks and their wifi helped us out. I'm not fond of their coffee, but their wifi is great- didn't even have to go inside. The city was quiet and drizzly, but not cold and we had the top, front of the bus to ourselves. Lovely watching the city wake up. We still got to the Tower early so popped into the Costa right there for some fantastic lattes and an equally fantastic view of the Tower. Used our 2for1 vouchers and were some of the first people inside. Again, great advice from fodorites about getting to the jewels first thing. We could look at our leisure completely unobstructed. They are extraordinary! About an hour later, we looked down from the wall and the whole place had filled up with tourists and school groups. We did the audio guide and part of a yeoman warders tour. Here's where being flexible with planning comes in. There's no way to know how long you'll spend in any given place if you've never been there so we made a list of what we wanted to do in order of importance. We spent 4 hours at the Tower! We only left because we needed food and a rest. My plan to eat at Borough Market changed to eating closer at a Cafe Rouge in St Katherine's docks. Really good lunch. Then we walked across the Tower bridge to the Queen's Walk and moseyed down to the market. Lovely views across the Thames. The market was a supreme temptation to my wallet. We tasted all sorts of foods (the cheese-oh the cheese!)but limited ourselves to some jams and curds, bread and cheese for later. Should have re-thought the jars. They got heavy later. Kept walking down the path and just peeked in at the Globe. Girls weren't interested in the tour, so we moved on to the Millenium bridge. The views up and down the river are fantastic there and of course across to St Pauls. We got to the cathedral in time for evensong as it happened and we needed a rest, so we stayed. Lovely, just lovely and what a setting. Then we took the tube to Holborn and walked to the British Museum (planned this way because it is open late on Fridays). We knew we would just have time for a glimpse, but we saw the mummies, the Rosetta stone and a few other rooms. That place needs a lifetime to explore, but one of my DDs is not so much into museums so a short visit suited her fine. Back on the tube to Oxford Circus, beat our way through the crowds spilling out of the pubs and drinking in the street for some so-so chinese food and back to the hostel to crash. If we don't sleep better tonight, it's not for the lack of being tired!
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Jul 6th, 2013, 08:38 AM
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Just starting to read this - and enjoying it. But a hint before you get too far along . . . It will be much easier to read if you use more paragraph breaks.
janisj is online now  
Jul 6th, 2013, 08:55 AM
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Great report so far! I'm looking forward to the rest, and I agree with janisj that more paragraph breaks are helpful. I'll read it either way, though.

Lee Ann
ElendilPickle is offline  
Jul 6th, 2013, 09:01 AM
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Me too - I'll just have to squint more
janisj is online now  
Jul 6th, 2013, 09:53 AM
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Good pointers, will strive to make it easier to read! Can't have janis squinting I'm writing from my notes which are more like a stream of consciousness. I was clearly not in my right mind when writing some of it.

It might also be useful to some to actually say what time of year this trip was-duh.

June 5-24 2013.

Day 4 to follow once I decifer my notes.......
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Jul 6th, 2013, 11:21 AM
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glad you had a good time, rmmom. Looking forward to more.
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Jul 6th, 2013, 11:31 AM
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I am really enjoying your report, thus far. Looking forward to more!!
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Jul 6th, 2013, 12:31 PM
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Day 4
Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Parliament, Horseguards Parade (for the 4pm changing of the guards), Churchill War Rooms, St James and Green Parks, Buckingham, Piccadilly Circus

Ahhhh, a good night's sleep as last. I knew to check the tube for closures since it was a weekend and sure enough, the tube line we needed was down for repairs so we took a bus. For some reason, despite all our resources (maps, online research etc) we always had some confusion with the busses. My 17yo DD ended up being in charge of transportation in London (and eventually my navigator in Scotland). She just "got" it and we deferred to her. For "country folk" not used to public transportation, I think we did ok. The tube was easier to navigate than we expected and there was that nice lady reminding us to "mind the gap".

We didn't get to Westminster as early as we wanted, but a bit of a lazy morning was a good trade off. We waited in line about 20 min. enjoying the bright blue skies instead of drizzly overcast. Took the 90 min verger tour- money well spent. Got us in to see some tombs the regular visitors can't see like Edward the Confessor's. What a spectacular gothic edifice and the interior is unbelievable. Had no idea until they found it, that my DDs have a relative buried there on their dad's side, Joseph Addison, who has a huge monument in the poet's corner. They surreptitiously took pictures of it- shhh, don't tell. We had a decent lunch there, but bad service (something we found to be a common thread throughout our visit, but we weren't eating in upscale places either).

Walked to Big Ben and Parliament. Didn't go on the Eye even though I had a 2 for 1 coupon (not to be confused with the Days Out 2 for 1's, I got the link for this from someone on fodors). We just didn't want to take the time. On the way to Horseguards we ran into the "Naked Bike Ride", an annual event. It looks as uncomfortable as it sounds, but they had a nice, warm day for it!

On the way to Horseguards, we passed the Churchill War Rooms. This was something I had planned to do alone when my DDs go to Cardiff for the day, but we were early for the changing of the guard and they were interested, so we decided to go together. I had a 2 for 1 voucher so at least we saved some money, but in hindsight, we needed more time (we were there a bit over an hour). The place is HUGE. Can't tell because it's underground. If I was to do it over again, I would have skipped the changing of the guards and just spent more time in the War Rooms. My dad, an RCAF airman in WWII (my family is all Canadian except for me), would have loved the place!

After watching the horseguards do their thing (and it is cool to be so close to the horses with no crowds), we sauntered over to St Jame's Park. It was 5pm and the park was full off lily white London residents soaking up some much needed vitamin D. The park was jammed on a truly glorious day! Didn't feel like we were in a city of 8.5 million. Buckingham Palace was bigger in person and you can get closer to it than say the White House. The door on "the" balcony was open- might some royal personage make an appearance just to say hi? Sadly, no. Next to it is Green Park and we stumbled on the Canadian War Memorial which was another thing my dad would have liked to see. He visited London before it was erected. It is a unique water feature with bronze maple leaves that the water runs over making it look like leaves floating down a stream. Very nice dedication to the Canadians who fought alongside the British in WWII.

A short walk through Green Park took us to Fortnum and Mason and Piccadilly Circus. We ogled the gorgeous cakes and sweets in F and M and bought some teas to take back home and, of course, some sweets for later We were a bit foot sore or we would have spent some more time in the store although my pocketbook was probably relieved by our short visit.

Tube back to Oxford Circus, bipped into M&S for breakfast fixings and had dinner at the Coach and Horses pub across the street from the hostel. Very good steak pie and fish and chips. I had a Pimms- it did not disappoint and hit the spot. Back to the hostel for multiple battery charging and journaling. Good thing I brought a small surge protector with multiple outlets! What with all the phones and cameras, we were charging something all the time.

Tomorrow our first day trip- Oxford!
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Jul 6th, 2013, 01:32 PM
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Day 5 Oxford

Tube to Paddington for a 9:30 train. I bought all our train tickets online as soon as the advance tickets went on sale and travelled off peak, collecting the tickets at the stations. The only snag (and more on this later in Scotland) was one of my credit cards got cancelled a few weeks before our departure because some of the company's (Capital One) accounts were "compromised". My account didn't have any false charges, but they closed it anyway and sent me a new card in time for the trip. The train companies state you must have the card used for the purchase on hand when collecting your tickets and to call if there's a change. I had used 2 different cards for this trip so I had to sort out which one I had used for various things. I thought I only used this card for this one train reservation. That was one of the few overseas calls I made before we left just to be told I had to call back the day before departure. I did, the train people were confused, but they sorted it out and I was able to collect our tickets. Whew!

We were early to Paddington and got distracted in a cute card shop (can they really say those things on the front of cards?) and almost missed the train! We had to shoo people out of our clearly marked, reserved seats with a table, but they were nice enough about it. Cloudy and cool today, but the countryside was pretty with the green fields and yellow rapeseed everywhere. Green is a color we don't see much of in California. We took the only hop on/off bus of our trip here because it was inexpensive. We did get a nice overview and history of the town and its various colleges so it was worth it. The town is gorgeous with buildings dating back to 1066. I had booked an extended tour of the Bodleian Library which gives you access to so much more than the standard tours, areas most visitors never get to see. I recently read a novel where it and Oxford were featured prominently which sparked my interest. My 17yo is a book hound so she was excited. Did not know that the Divinity School there was used as the infirmary in a few of the Harry Potter movies. The ceilings there were beautiful. My neck was beginning to hurt from all the decorative ceilings everywhere! The Bodleian is amazing. It houses everything ever published in the UK! Books, periodicals, everything. Parts of it date to the 13th century, but was in disrepair when Bodley saved it and donated his huge personal collection of books. He also opened it to the public feeling that books should be enjoyed by everyone, not just nobles and scholars. They let us hold and examine a book from the 16th century. Very cool. It is still used today as a library for all the various colleges in Oxford. It would be amazing to study there! We saw a lot of students studying in the Radcliffe Camera next door. An interesting round building that they had to design special book shelves for since it's, well, round.

The tour took longer than expected, almost 2 hrs, so we had to hurry to Christ Church College. A must see for my girls with its connection to the Harry Potter franchise. What a gorgeous building and grounds. My word, we ooohhed and ahhhhed all over this town, but this college is spectacular. The students had just had lunch in the dining hall and it was amazing to think that it's probably no big deal to them to eat in such historic surroundings with old, old portraits on the walls. It looks just like the great hall in Hogwarts, as it should since it was the inspiration. Amazing. The cathedral (dates back to the 900's) there had the most beautiful stained glass we saw on this whole trip. Just astounding.

We wanted to see the Ashmolean museum, but it closed before we got there We had a decent dinner in a pub. My 19yo tried a Pimms and didn't like it so I drank it and my Nicholson's. Score! The train back to London was crowded as was the tube for a Sunday night. We certainly have learned to heed the "stay to the right" signs on the escalators in the tube stations. The locals will run you down if you don't. At least Oxford St itself was quieter at this hour (8:45).

Off to bed with a pain pill for my neck (why did they have to decorate ALL the ceilings?).
rmmom is offline  
Jul 6th, 2013, 05:30 PM
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Great trip report so far. Keep it coming!
europeannovice is offline  
Jul 6th, 2013, 05:41 PM
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Truly enjoying your trip, look forward to reading more. We did a family vacation with a bit of inherited money from my mom too; it was the best so I understand your incentive.
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Jul 6th, 2013, 05:54 PM
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Enjoying trailing along in your memory-footsteps; I was just in London for a couple days (in middle of 3 week trip) and am working on a TR, too, so encourage you to keep it coming. What memories!
texasbookworm is offline  
Jul 6th, 2013, 06:35 PM
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>>Green is a color we don't see much of in California. <<

Well - there is that two weeks in April

Wonderful report - I've walked through/crossed Green Park countless times and this past May was the first time I've seen the Canadian memorial. Really lovely.
janisj is online now  
Jul 6th, 2013, 06:37 PM
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Oh - and thanks for the ¶ breaks . . .
janisj is online now  
Jul 6th, 2013, 11:52 PM
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{Small footnote for other visitors from Commonwealth countries]

A number of war memorials for the different Commonwealth countries are grouped along and around Constitution Hill and Hyde Park Corner.
PatrickLondon is offline  
Jul 7th, 2013, 01:37 AM
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ttt good to see you enjoyed the trip
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 7th, 2013, 08:02 AM
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"The Bodleian is amazing. It houses everything ever published in the UK!"

Alas, no.

In 1550, virtually all the books in the library established in 1488 by Humfrey, Duke of Gloucester, were destroyed as a result of anti-Catholic legislation. The buildings remained book-free till around 1590, and had an idiosyncratic acquisition policy till it was legislated in 1710 that a copy of all books published in England (but not Scotland or more importantly Ireland, which became a significant publishing centre as a result of its exemption from English legislation) had to be deposited at Oxford and Cambridge.

The Bodleian has never been able to make any significant inroads into its lack of pre-1600 English (never mind Scottish or Irish) books: the British Library has a much bigger collection, especially of pre-Reformation manuscripts. The University Library in Cambridge (where the Reformation was far less bloody) has developed its collection since roughly the introduction of printing into England without any period of mass destruction. It comes closer than anywhere else to being able to claim a near-complete collection of all books printed in England

Like the university libraries in Dublin and Cambridge, the Bodleian now gets a copy of all books published in the UK and the Irish Republic. But that's only been the case since the 1840s.
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