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Trip Report: London, Northumberland, Yorkshire Coast and Chipping Campden

Trip Report: London, Northumberland, Yorkshire Coast and Chipping Campden

Aug 6th, 2009, 08:59 AM
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Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 187
Trip Report: London, Northumberland, Yorkshire Coast and Chipping Campden

With many many thanks to all on Fodors who contributed greatly to our planning, I write this report. We had travelled to Europe with our two sons, now aged 16 and 13, two year ago and they asked to go back. So, we narrowed our destinations and dates down and called American to see where we could go on the lowest mileage award level, and the answer was London via Toronto (from Dallas). So off we went July 18. We spent four nights in London, then took the train to York. After seeing York, we rented a car and drove to Hexham, toured sites in Northumberland (I think the Brits call it Northumbria), then to Whitby and the Yorkshire Coast via the Moors, and on down to the Cottswolds as we made our way back to Heathrow. It was a wonderful trip, with some surprises and a couple of tense moments, one meltdown. Friends have asked me what the best thing about the trip was and my answer is the time with my family. Anyone with teens knows that you start seeing less and less of them with time, and when they're home, they're preoccupied with something else. For 12 days we were mostly together, talking and laughing (and eating very well) and learning things about each other. I've also been asked what the best tip I have is, and it is one which I received here on Fodor's, which is to take a portable GPS with you (the Brits call it a SAT NAV).

Part I: London

The unfortunate part about getting to London was having to connect through Toronto (in Dallas you can fly direct to almost anywhere so we get spoiled), and the fortunate part was that we switched to British Airways for the Toronto to London leg and it was really nice. The flight attendants were so friendly and the equipment was a 747, which thrilled the boys. Upon arrival at Heathrow Terminal 5, we were met by the driver from justairports.com exactly where he said he would meet us. The charge for an MPV (sort of a minivan/SUV because we were four and had four checked and four carryons) was 44GBP plus parking, in cash to the driver. Fodors Forums provided the justairports recommendation and I remember one poster who had used them noted that the parking rate passed through seemed very high. So, I asked our driver to provide the parking receipt, and he said he did not get one- -it was a pay machine at the airport, But he only charged us about 6GBP for parking. Very pleasant ffellow, easy drive.

Our hotel was The Athenaeum and we were very happy with it. We had used a travel agent to book this, and what she booked for us was a two bedroom two bathroom apartment, which we loved. I believe they were units 31 and 32. We had a "full" kitchen without a microwave but with a washer/dryer. I don't mean a washer and a dryer, I mean a washer/dryer in one unit. If you want to pull something out between the wash and dry cycle to hang it up to dry, forget it because the door is locked for the duration. Anyway this was great because when we left London we had all clean clothes. The location of the hotel was really wonderful because it was on Green Park and you could walk to Buckingham Palace and to Harrods in Knightsbridge and to Bond Street.

The Athenaeum
116 Piccadilly
London W1J 7BJ

Upon arrival, in the morning, we learned not surprisingly that our room wasn't ready, so with two hungry teens, we sat down for breakfast in the hotel dining room, which was really good with full English and many other options but turned out to be VERY expensive, so this was the last breakfast at the hotel. We had hired a private blue badge guide for the afternoon of this day and for one full day later. This would be the only guiding on the trip and we decided on a half day afternoon on our first day because we figured we would be sleepy and the guide would know where to go and keep things moving. He wasn't meeting us until 1:00 and it was currently 11, so we decided to walk through Green Park to see the CHANGING OF THE GUARD. DH and I had missed it on our last trip to London and so I really wanted to see it. I knew that we were going to arrive at Buckingham Palace too late to get a prime seat. I had read from a previous poster that standing on the spur road or the birdcage walk would get you a good glimpse of the guards as they marched right by you. We arrived to find a zoo of people. All the spots at the fountain across from the palace were taken, but I think that this would have been a great place to view it from. We just took a spot a couple of rows back along the front fence and thought we would see enough to make it worthwhile. It was worthwhile but when the ceremony started and the guards came into view, all the arms of the people in front of us immediately went straight up with cameras in them, so we were having to stand on our toes, crane our necks, look left, look right, and fight off the people trying to elbow in front of us. It was a zoo. The ceremony takes place in different areas in front of and on the side of the palace, and so what may be a prime position for one part isn't for another. On this day, the ceremony ended with the royal band playing a medley of James Bond music. Kind of a funny thing--we really enjoyed it the whole thing although I'm glad we never had to deal with that kind of crowd again on our trip. I might recommend getting there earlier and getting a spot on the fountain. Someone reading this might know if that really is the prime spot and by what time one needs to arrive to get a spot there. I had researched where to stand and failed to follow my research- - just got there and waded into the throng.

http://www.changing-the-guard.com is the site which gives the schedule.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 09:22 AM
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First afternoon in London:

We met our Blue Badge guide in the afternoon, Sean from Scotland. Again, we heard about Blue Badge guides from the forums. Apparently, they go through alot of training and testing, including on site testing at key sites, in order to earn the Blue Badge designation. Some of them are walking guides and some are driving guides (at a higher rate) Sean was a walking guide and was hilarious and very well informed- and kept us awake. One thing he did was to show us the neighborhood behind our hotel, which I wasn't sure was such a good use of our time at the time but proved very valuable as we ventured out for groceries and breakfast and cocktails alot while there. The afternoon is a little foggy because of jet lag but he gave us alot of general history and we walked alot- -across Westminster Bridge, past the London Eye (too cloudy to be a good time to ride) and all along the waterfront, seeing the Globe Theatre (then pub stop)and Tate Modern (although we were too late and too tired to go into the Tate, the building, a former power station is interesting to see). Must go back on next trip.

DINNER: met friends at YAUATCHA in Soho, a dim sum restaurant downstairs and French pastry restaurant upstairs. It was excellent and hip and casual, dark atmosphere, with a wide variety of small plates, rather than the traditional cart service dim sum. There is a small plate for everyone, from potatoes to squid, at a variety of prices. Would definitely return. Cab driver had a little trouble finding it.

15-17 Broadwick Street
Soho, London W1F ODL
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 10:20 AM
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Day Two in London: Sleep, Hampton Court Palace, the Imperial War Museum, and Waterloo Station

I had learned on our last trip to Europe that I can't get everyone up early every day- -the teenagers get very cranky. I promised they could sleep in on this day, so we didn't get going until around 11:00. It kills me to be up and ready by 9:00 and let them sleep, but at least for our family, it's better this way. We walked to Shepherd's Square for breakfast and had a good one at a small cafe called Caffe In. We had discussed some options for today and chose Hampton Court Palace and the Imperial War Museum. It is the 500th anniversary of the coronation of Henry VIII and Hampton Court Palace has some special events going on in light thereof, so we bought a ticket at National Rail ticket to Hampton Court Station. It was a really nice day. We almost went to see Wimbledon when we saw a sign marked "Centre Court" at a building right by one of the stations, thinking we could make a quick trip out of it. My husband figured out that is was a shopping centre, not the famous tennis centre.

HAMPTON COURT PALACE was a nice stop on a pretty day. On this day, there was a special appearance about once every half hour of an actor playing King Henry or his bride to be or both. These took place in different areas of the building and grounds. We caught King Henry's bachelor party in the royal wine cellar. You could also go and help the bride dress in the royal apartments, greet the couple after the wedding in the courtyard, etc. I liked seeing the great hall where Henry VIII entertained and also the garden. DS 2 liked the maze in the garden. The cost for a ticket for four to both the palace and the gardens was a little steep compared to many things we saw on this trip, 47 GBP. We boarded the train back to Waterloo, about a 30 minute ride. I believe our round trip rail tickets were 6.50 GBP each which was a standard class off-peak day ticket. Once back, we were hungry so stopped at the upstairs of a Marks and Spencer in the station, a casual eatery chain called M&S, I think, and it was just fine. Waterloo Station was the station where they filmed an action sequence from Bourne Ultimatum, which the boys liked.

We realized that from Waterloo Station, it would be a fairly easy walk to the Imperial War Museum. The map makes it look like you just walk outside and around the corner to Westminster Bridge Road, but we went outside and all there was was a raised road and a taxi line. We went back inside and helpful man explained that we needed to go downstairs in Waterloo Station to where the tube station (rather than National Rail) was and then go outside the side door. This worked and we had a 10-15 minute walk to the IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM. Unfortunately, we had less than an hour to enjoy the museum, as it was about to close, but were able to do the WWI Trench Experience and the WWII Blitz Experience, as well as the weapons inside the entrance and a few of the other exhibits. No waiting for Trench or Blitz. This museum is a great one to two hour stop if you are interested in war history. By the way, I am claustrophobic but did not have a problem with either of "the experiences", which were both good. I believe that admission to the museum was free. A good italian dinner in the neighborhood then home to bed.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 10:36 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
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Hi rileypenny, I'm enjoying your report. There seems to be a constant theme on all London TRs lately - about the Wimbledon "Center Court" mall!

If you plan to visit London again, please note that you can save a bunch of money by taking advantage of the 2-for-1 deal. You could have saved half of the admission fee at HCP using the 2-for-1 voucher plus your national Rail tickets. The 2-for-1 deal is mentioned here on Fodors Europe forum frequently. http://www.daysoutguide.co.uk/hampton-court-palace

The Imperial War Museum is one of my favorite, non-art museums in London. I know many people love the Churchill Museum/Cabinet War Rooms, but I personally prefer IWM.

Please continue!
yk is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 11:29 AM
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Hi, yk

Yes, after I paid at HCP I wondered if it was on the two for one in daysout. The worst is that I had a 2-for-1 printed for the Tower the next day and left it in the hotel room. So, I can kick myself twice. Or more. But yes, the HCP would be a critical place to have a 2-for-1 pass printed.

I wrote about the Centre Court thing so CAPH52 would know she was not alone. It seems so obvious to you that the real deal must be RIGHT THERE at the station!!! Easy mistake.

One lasting impression from the IWM for me is the smell that they recreated in the trenches. Also, I never realized just how complex and intricate those trenches were. A great exhibit. There is another place with a similar smell in York.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 02:04 PM
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London Day 3: Westminster Abbey, Cabinet War Rooms and Churchill Museum, Whitehall, St. Pauls and the Tower in one day, with a guide

No sleeping in today as we had a full day with a private guide and by God, I was going to squeeze every bit of London out of it that we could get. DH went to a Marks and Spencer and bought some breakfast food and snacks so we had breakfast in the apartment, then met Sean in the lobby. First stop, WESTMINSTER ABBEY. There were several large groups and the Abbey was quite crowded, but not so crowded that it ruined the visit. There is so much to see here and the building is magnificent. Having a private guide was great given the crowds and that fact that we did not have to wait in line; however, I think that you could go on your own with a guide book or use an audioguide. I liked the stories our guide told us about the coronation chair and the relative opulence of the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots to that of Bloody Mary and Elizabeth. Watching Elizabeth I and Elizabeth: The Golden Age before the trip would be a good way to prepare.

Next, the CABINET WAR ROOMS AND CHURCHILL MUSEUM. This was one of our favorite stops on the trip. As for the Cabinet War Rooms, it is amazing how these people had to live in this underground community, According to our guide, they knew at that time that the building, while constantly being reinforced, would not withstand a direct hit. The Churchill Museum is very original. The interactive timeline is a must do and our guide had a card with some of the better dates to activate. Basically, this exhibit is a large white table which is actually an interactive computer, so when you push on a date, the events of that date come to life. When you hit certain buttons, the whole timeline disappears and a huge moving graphic with sound dominates the whole "table", leaving people at the other end wondering what they did wrong to lose the image they had just been viewing. Our guide knew some good ones to hit. For instance, if you push on Pearl Harbor Day, planes begin to fly across the entire exhibit. Also, I knew Churchill was witty, but from this museum, I learned just how witty.

We left the museum and took a taxi to a spot near St. Pauls where our guide frequented and had made a lunch reservation for us: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 02:07 PM
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Oh! I can't wait to hear about Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese! I did a self-guided walk and passed by the pub. Had wanted to eat in there but didn't have time.
yk is offline  
Aug 6th, 2009, 03:01 PM
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Thanks, yk

Day 3 in London Continued:

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a pub on Fleet Street which, acccording to pubs.com still contains the vaults of a 13th century monastery from the site. By the 16th century, there was a pub on this site and eventually went by this name. It burned down in the great fire of 1666 and was rebuilt the next year. It's claim to fame is that it was a favorite establishment of Samuel Johnson and of Charles Dickens when he was a newspaper writer on Fleet Street. It is dark and woody and serves traditional English fare in the front dining room. It is famous for its steak and kidney pudding. We had met some friends there and so had a nice big table in the "Chop Room" and ordered things like roast chicken and mash, roasted pheasant, beef, etc. I would not say service was speedy but we had a great time and our food was good. Apparently we should have walked downstairs after lunch to see the old vaults, but we didn't.

Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
145 Fleet Street
City of London, EC4A 2BU

From there we walked to ST. PAULS. There were some big groups just in front of us so Sean took us downstairs to the entrance on the Crypt level. DH and I had been there before, so Sean did a teens-who-have-toured-all-day speed tour, which was perfect. When last at St. Peters, DS #2 had been too tired to climb the dome, so now he was primed and ready to climb St. Pauls' dome. They require an adult to go, even with teenagers, so DH went with them. There is a surcharge. I went to the gift shop and had a diet coke. They all loved it.

After I talk about York Minster, I will give you my family's take on some of the dome/duomo/tower/minster climbs in Europe.

Next, the TOWER OF LONDON. As mentioned, I realized I forgot the 2-for-1 passes for the Tower once we got there. Just great. But it's near closing time and we are nowhere near our hotel. So, we go in. Because we were with a Blue Badge, we were allowed to go in the group/tour entrance- no line. We went straight to the crown jewels exhibit, worried that there would be wait. We joined the line when it was ten persons outside of the building entrance, and were in the gallery with the jewels within 10 minutes. We went to the courtyard and Sean told us about the beheadings, and then we paid him and bid him good bye and dashed right into the torture dungeon and then the King Henry Armor exhibit. Those poor horses having to wear all that armour. This was all great and we would like to have seen a little more of the Tower but it was closing- -we were the last ones in to the armour exhibit.
So we exited the Tower just as it started raining hard and went towards the tube station with everyone else exiting and then an available cab appeared and we grabbed it.

Dinner: The boys were tired and ordered room service and watched DVD's (Note: American DVD's do not work in UK DVD players- -took me quite a while of trying to make it work before I called the front desk to complain about the DVD player being broken. Kudo's to the nice, poor young man who came to the room to deal with my complaining, all the while aplogizing and just taking it, then offering to bring us an American DVD player). DH and I dined at WILD HONEY. I was really looking forward to this restaurant, even though we were tired, because every trip is all about the food for me. My starter was a carrot, toasted hazelnut and grapefruit soup, followed by a wild rabbit and foie gras terrine shaped like a sausage but with the consistency of a terrine- -amazing. DH had a really great slow cooked veal shin. One great thing is that they offer wine by the carafe and half carafe as well as by the glass and bottle. I would go back and would recommend this place to foodies for original food at not sky high prices. Service was excellent. Try to dine in a party of four so you are not seated at the tables for two, which are very close together. Atmoshphere is warm and cozy.

Wild Honey
12 St. George Street
West End

This was a long and busy day so we collapsed after dinner and slept well.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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Day Four: Last full day in London- -Covent Garden, "Oliver!" and Harrods, the Cotton Eyed Joe at El Pirata

Today we slept in, then walked up Picadilly to have late breakfast at Patisserie Valerie, a very casual possibly chain restaurant which was very good and affordable. It is on the same corner as the Picadilly Circus tube station. We caught the tube to Covent Garden station and had some great advice from a nice man in the Picadilly tube station. He told us that when we return after the show, the Covent Garden tube station would be very crowded, and to use Holborn or Leicester Square, which we heeded. Anyway, Covent Garden was very busy even in the middle of the day and we walked around, watched entertainers at the main square, and then found the Royal Theatre Drury Lane (which took a little work- -should have brought the portable GPS). We really enjoyed OLIVER! Our seats were in the stalls on the very right edge in the back. Usually I don't like the side edge but they were just fine as the theatre is fairly small and I don't think there is a bad seat in the house. When we first entered, I joined a very long queue for the ladies room, when someone told me that there is another ladies room inside the theatre, right by the seats on the right side of the stalls. No line at all. Seeing the show was one of the highlights of the trip.

After the show the boys did not want to walk around Covent Garden any more so we took the tube to Knightsbridge to show them HARRODS. They enjoyed the top floor, full of sports equipment, but not the rest as it was very crowded. DS #2 saw that Harrods sells Krispy Kreme donuts and just had to buy a dozen. This was all we bought! We went all the way to Harrods and bought something we could get at any corner convenience mart back at home. That's ok, when a guy's gotta have a donut, he's gotta have a donut.

We walked back to our hotel and decided to give El Pirata a try for dinner. Our apartment was entered on a side street, not through the hotel itself. Right by our apartment is a Spanish tapas restaurant that seemed very popular every night- -El Pirata. We walked up and they seated us downstairs where we had great food and wine and service at great prices. Our waiter was very friendly and we asked if he was from Spain and he told us he was not, so we asked him where he was from and he told us to guess. This began a guessing game- -I believe that correct answer was Croatia. Then he asked where we were from- -which state. He obviously knew we were from the states. At this point we have just about closed the place down and our kids had finished eating and returned to the room long before. After many incorrect guesses I told him to imagine I was wearing a cowboy hat and boots and I started dancing and humming the "Cotton Eyed Joe". (This is when my husband just wanted to look like he was not with me.) The waiter's eyes lit up and got wide and he pointed at me and exclaimed, "San Francisco!!" We broke the sad news to him that we were from Texas and stumbled up to our apartment to bed. Our check was 97GBP which included alot of food for four and even more wine. I will find the address and put it in the next post.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 07:36 AM
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Hi rileypenny,

I looked up the Athenaeum hotel (you put in the wrong weblink I think, the correct one should be http://www.athenaeumhotel.com/ ). It looks VERY nice, and about several times above my budget! I wonder if you got a better deal through your travel agent?

IME, majority of waitstaff in London are Eastern Europeans, esp from the Baltic states.
yk is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 08:37 AM
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yk, thanks for correcting my link. Yes, the Athenaeum was very nice with excellent service. When the agent quoted a number of properties, this really stuck out as being a good deal given the property rating, so maybe they do have an arrangement.

Your experience might have saved me several South American and western European guesses! Later, when we stayed on the Yorkshire coast, we learned that many Bulgarians come over with one year arrangements to wait and work in hotels there.

El Pirata
5-6 Down Street
London W1J 7AQ

Leaving London for York and visiting York, then the driving begins:

Like CAPH52 and her son we had prepurchased tickets on National Rail to York based on advice on old Forum postings. We decided to buy first class after someone told us the seats are more comfortable and the luggage situation better. I don't remember the price difference but on the day I purchased, it didn't seem too much more expensive. We had been told to leave the hotel by 9:15 to get to Kings Cross in time for our 10:00 train, or 9:00 to be safe. So, we left at 8:50, by taxi. All four of our big bags, as well as four small bags and four people fit in one taxi, which surprised me. Even after rush hour, Kings Cross was busy. I was very nervous about retrieving our tickets. When you buy online at national rail, you are given the option of receiving the tickets in advance by mail, but only in the UK. Or, you can bring your Fastticket Reference number and the credit card used to purchase the tickets and swipe it at the Fastticket kiosk at the station. Well, of course, after I had purchased the tickets I promptly lost the Mastercard I had used to buy them. I called National Rail and was directed, I think, to National Express East Coast and explained the situation before we left the states. The operator asked me to give her a different credit card in my name and told me she had switched the reservation to that card. So, when we got to the kiosk I was nervous about whether the new card would work.

Of course, I swiped it and the message popped up to the effect that this was not the credit card used to buy the tickets and see agent. We looked over at the manned ticket counter and there was a queue about 30 people long. I was sure we would miss our train. So, we went over there and DH got in the queue while I got in a different, shorter one, for purchasing tickets for a future date. I didn't know if they would help me in that line, but I decided to try, thinking I would reach a person far before my husband did. I was wrong- he reached fairly quickly and we still had about 15 minutes before the train. The agent smiled and apologized and asked for id and gave us our tickets.

Out in the main area at the end of the platforms, there is a large lighted sign listing the various train departures coming up. We identified our train. Many people were standing and looking up at the sign. There was no platform number listed for our train. I asked a nice young man for advice about what to do next and he told me that everyone was waiting for the platform number to be posted. He said that as soon as it is posted, people will rush to the platform because many people do not have assigned seats. He looked at our tickets and assured me we had assigned seats and would not need to run when everyone else ran.

There were still a few minutes so DH and the two DS ran to see "Platform 9-3/4" while I watched the luggage. It has now been moved to Platform 8 and you must walk down the platform a ways before you see it. Anyway, the platform for our train posted and people hurried toward it and I'm still standing there waiting for them to return for quite a while. Finally they came back, we showed a guy loading luggage our tickets and he told us to go to Car K and take our luggage with us. THere wasn't much room in the luggage area for us to store ours so I wish we would have boarded right away. We found our seats, sat down and the train left immediately. This is alot of detail but thought it might help someone in the future.

It reminds me also of the time many years ago when DH and I were boarding a TGV from Paris to Marseilles at the last minute and started to get on when someone told us we had to get on a car much further down the platform because in mid trip the train would be splitting in two and each half would go to a different destination. I remember running as fast as we could with two huge duffle bags, as this was before luggage with wheels, and barely making it.

The train ride to York was quiet and pleasant and we were able to order lunch- -cold sandwiches, pannini's, etc., which would give us more time in York.

I purchased the four first class tickets June 2 for travel July 23, so I may have missed the ideal time window a bit. They were 245GBP in total, 70GBP for the adults and 35 for the one child. There were several departure times to choose from and the prices varied. I'm glad we left the hotel a little early or we might not have made it. I don't know if first class was worth it- -maybe one of the UK experts has an opinion.

Next stop would be a half a day in York and then off to Hadrian's Wall country.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 11:08 AM
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We had decided to go to the north for lots of reasons, including alot of information and recommendations from Forum posters, expert and not. It sounded beautiful and remote, with lots to do on the North Sea Coast and around the moors, with Roman ruins, good hikes. Cool Weather and possibly smaller crowds also interested us. Ideally, I would have followed the complete advice of janisj and stayed north for the rest of our trip, flying home via Manchester, or returning to London by train at the end. The flight out of Manchester wasn't available, and for some reason, I had decided that we should drive back to London and see the Cotswolds on the way. There was nothing wrong with the Cotswolds at all, but still this was the logistical error of the trip. We learn from our mistakes and the advice of others, but still, every trip has its one planning mistake, at least for me. I have learned not to try to stay in too many different places or leave too much ground to travel between stops, hence the one country on this trip. However, it is stressful for Americans to drive on the "wrong" side of the road in England and I feel guilty for DH having to do it all.

We LOVED the north even though we only saw a fraction of what I wanted to see. If I'd had it to do over again, I would have stayed the last 6 nights all in the north and then taken the train back to London from York or Newcastle. We only stayed in the north for four nights, so we had to choose Moors or Dales, not both. This is a long list but thanks go out in addition to janisj for staying with me on my post but also to yk, bilboburglar, flanneruk, Morgana, nona1, bettyk, PatrickLondon, annhig, ChgoGal, tsrapp, traveller1959, Lauratg, and greendragon. There was something that each of you wrote somewhere that I saved and used in this trip, be it in London, the north, or the Cottswolds.


We had booked a car through our agent from Auto Europe and the pick up point is right at platform one in the EuropCar office- -a little confusing. This all went smoothly and she gave us a sheet of paper with information about how to drop off at Heathrow. She also allowed us to leave our car (a Volvo wagon)there at the station while we toured York for the afternoon, which she said they would not normally do, but it was not very busy on this day. We walked out of the station and dirctly to the CITY WALL and up on top. This was great and we walked about a quarter of the way around. If we'd had more time, would have done the whole thing.

We had not planned to do the JORVIK VIKING CENTRE but the attendant on the train described it and recommended it and the boys thought it sounded interesting, so we went there and there was no line to get in so we went ahead. There is a very cheesy introductory film in a room with a simulator that shakes you gently at certain points as you "travel back through time". Then you board a sort of theme park car, choose your language for commentary and slowly fly over the recreation of a 10th century viking village. This is a little cheesy, and I wouldn't put it on a "must do" list, but rather the "might do if it's raining" list. To me, the best part was after you got off the ride and had a chance to see the Viking artifacts and learn a little about the culture then. The worst part was the smell of the Viking village, which was alot like the WWI Trench Experience. Did you know that Vikings got married between the ages of 12 and 15?

After this we walked THE SHAMBLES, an area of small twisty pedestrian only streets with quaint shops, and we walked toward the Minster, stopping at a rugby store to buy a rugby ball and jersey. This was nice walking. Wear flat shoes for sure.

The one thing we really wanted to see was YORK MINSTER. It was incredible. Of the three primary places of worship we saw (Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's being the other two) this was the most magnificent to us. Maybe it is because of its size, or because there arent as many crypts and markers cluttering it, or because it wasn't as crowded, but it was spiritual and magnificent. I strolled around using the free pamphlet (not the one you have to buy) and it was a great plan to follow and I got to admire all of the windows. The boys climbed the great central tower with 275 steps. The minster is a "must do" in this area, in my opinion.

After doing the duomo in Florence, St. Peter's dome in Rome, St. Paul's in London, and the tower in York Minster, here is what my family concluded. I'd be interested to know what others' opinions are. Duomo: very narrow and claustrophobic one way stairway, can't remember how far up. Occasional traffic jams, great view at the top. St. Peter's: a really really long way up, but the most spectacular view at the top. Lots of Americans there. Not as claustrophobic. St. Pauls: Felt the most rewarding when you reached the top- -a reall sense of achievement. Took longer than York Minster. York Minster: the narrowest of all stairways, not sure that very large persons would fit. No log jams and very steep, small steps that at their longest outside edge were only as long as a man's small shoe. You leave on a "tour" of the tower on every half hour, which may be why there were no log jams. Like St. Paul's, the tower requires an additional ticket and an adult to accompany kids.

We emerged from the minster into a driving rain. In fact, this was the first real driving rain we had had on the whole trip despite a forecast with several days of rain. We had a fairly heavy rain shower after the Tower in London. Anyway, it seems like the forecast for almost each day of our trip called for rain, but usually this was one light shower that passed fairly quickly.

Again miraculously a cab appeared as we were getting soaked and fighting to keep our umbrellas from turing inside out. We spend 5GBP taking the cab to the train station and it was money well spent.

We retrieved our car from the rental lot, plugged in the GPS and were off to Hadrian's Wall country.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 12:37 PM
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rileypenny, I am so enjoying your report and am glad that I was able to help your planning in some small way. Since we weren't able to take our UK trip this year as originally planned, I am so having UK withdrawal!

I'm glad you and your kids enjoyed the Imperial War Museum and the Cabinet War Rooms as they were a couple of our favorites too. I'm anxious to go back now as they had not yet opened the Churchill Museum in 2004. It sounds great.

Can't wait to see what you thought of Chipping Campden. We were only there for a day (some of it raining!) felt it was a great little town.
bettyk is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 02:25 PM
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Thanks, bettyk, I hope you can get back there soon and have a chance to wander around the Churchill Museum. Apparently Mr. Churchill had an exchange with a woman at one time wherein she said, "Winston, if I were married to you I would put poison in a drink and serve it to you" and he replied, "Jane, if I were married to you I would drink it!" (I put that in quotation marks but I didn't save the exact quote, but this is very close.)Anyway, funny guy.

End of Day 5: Driving from York to Hexham and staying overnight in a castle

Well, I can tell you that the very very best thing we spent money on was the portable GPS device (or SAT NAV). I can't imagine doing the driving portion of this trip without one. We had the choice of renting one from AutoEurope/EuropCar for $5/day for the whole of our trip, plus shipping, or buying one before we left. We had been told that our only option for renting one from the car company was this advance mailing arrangement, but when we got to York there was a sign on the counter saying "SAT NAV 10 pounds per day". We ended up buying one, thinking that with college hunting trips coming up next year, it would be a good thing to own. Like ChgoGal, who gave us the advice to use one, we bought a Garmin Nuvi 275 online. I also bought the adaptor which allows you to charge it in a standard home outlet, along with a UK adaptor for that, which I probably didn't need because it seemed to charge pretty quickly in the car. All of this was under $300. I'm sure that another brand would be good, too.

Before we left home I preset some of our destinations and saved them in the device's folder. We were instantly elated to have this as DH was trying to get used to driving in the UK and the lovely British lady's voice on the device was very reassuring, especially at huge roundabouts. We did have map backup, which was important twice. It is not impossible to screw up and we did, even with the device, but the lovely lady would quietly announce that she was "recalculating" and we would be back on our way. One thing that fouled us up with the GPS is that some of the addresses we had were not precise enough to be recognized by the device, as with our very first stop, Langley Castle, outside Hexham.


I wanted to stay in a castle on this trip. Langley seemed the perfect choice because it is so near Hadrian's wall, its restaurant is recommended by Fodor's, and we definitely wanted to see and hike the wall. The address listed for Langley Castle is "Langley-on-Tyne", Hexham, Northumberland. The GPS did not like this address. "No matches found". It offered up an address in Hexham on Langley Road and I selected it, thinking it had to be close. Nope. We called the hotel and found it, outside and west of Hexham. I wish that the guide books and establishments would provide more GPS friendly addresses rather than quaint sounding addresses, or maybe I should say that I wish I had called these places before we left to ask them for GPS-friendly addresses.

Langley Castle dates to 1350 when it was built by the Baron of Langley to keep the Scot invaders at bay. It lay almost completely in ruins until 1882, when an English historian named Cadwallader Bates bought it and began a restoration in 1895. He died in 1902 and his wife finished the reconstruction in 1914. In 1985, a professor from MIT bought it and redid the interior. We were told that it is now owned by an executive of Microsoft, although is it possible that the professor left MIT and joined Microsoft? I don't know. The walls are 7 feet thick and there is much history surrounding it which is all retold well in literature at the castle. Our rooms were lovely and it was all that we hoped it would be. I picked up a brochure at the front desk which says that rates range from 79.50GBP per person per night including breakfast in a castle view lodge (outside of the castle itself) to 140GBP per person per night for the "Feature Castle Rooms". There is also a mid-week special advertised at 69.50 per person per night. There are 27 rooms.

We were happy to arrive and have dinner. While one can dress casually, dinner at Langley Castle is a fairly formal, extended affair which begins with cocktails and canapes in the drawing room, at which time you place your order, and after which you are lead into a beautiful, romantic and very very quiet dining room. It was all like being in some fairy tale until DH and I both remarked to each other about the strange piped in music. It was a recording of Andy Williams singing American pop hits from the 70's. Yes, there was the theme from Love Story, some Carpenters songs, and one of the worst American songs ever written, "Seasons in the Sun" (We had joy we had fun, we had seasons in the sun...remember that?) We had to laugh. Dinner was very good with a starter, soup or sorbet, a main and dessert. They do have a children's menu. Everyone who worked at the hotel was very nice- -the service was wonderful.

Langley Castle Hotel
Hexham, Northumberland NE47 5LU

Tomorrow would be a full day at Hadrian's wall and hopefully, Alnwick and Bamburgh Castles.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 03:05 PM
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Wonderful report! Saving for 2010 June.
309pbg is offline  
Aug 7th, 2009, 05:09 PM
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Huh? I thought I had posted to your thread but I don't see it. Ah - the mysteries of Fodorland

Anyway - I'm really enjoying your report. I remember all your posts deciding between all the options.
janisj is offline  
Aug 8th, 2009, 12:21 PM
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Hi, janisj

I had more than one thread- -you posted alot on the thread starting with "Itinerary Help: 10 days in the UK".

309pbg, Enjoy your trip!

A question for the English experts: Could you clarify the difference between Northumbria and Northumberland? Thank you.

Also, on the York posting I forgot to mention that we were able to hear the organ practice and the choir practice. I had wanted to stay for evensong, but was worried about arriving at Langley Castle in time for dinner if we lingered at York Minster. So, we did not stay for evensong. Luckily, at around 4:00, I think, there was an organ practice and a choir practice so we did get to hear the music- -I'm not sure if that happens every day.

Day 6: Vindolanda, Roman Army Museum, Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick Gardens, Alnwich Castle, Bamburgh Castle

After a good breakfast, we set out for the Roman Army Museum. DS #2 had been placed in charge of our Hadrian's Wall hike as he is studying Latin. He decided that we should do part of the "Hadrian's Wall and Thirlwall Castle" walk on page 336 of the Fodor's See it Britain guide book, which I really liked. (This book is well-illustrated and in addition to giving highlights of key sites, it includes various drives and walks that can be enjoyed all over Britain). The entire walk is four miles. We asked directions from the hotel and ended up at the Roman Vindolanda site instead. We took a very quick look at that and then drove to the Roman Army Museum, where we purchased tickets for the wall and museum. It looked like rain so we decided to get going on the hike first. We all wore either hiking boots or waterproof trail runners and both types of footwear worked fine. I agree with the advice in See It Britain to use a walking stick. I had a golf umbrella folded up that I had borrowed from the hotel. No one else had anything like a walking stick and we did fine, but we didn't end up going very far. We did not end up getting rained on.

Our HADRIAN'S WALL HIKE was one of the highlights of the trip for all of us. From the beginning, we went the wrong way, of course. We had left our car in the army museum car park and walked down the road north about 50 yards, where there was another car park next to a small gift shop. We had been instructed to find the path from this car park. There are actually two paths out of that car park and they do eventually intersect but I think it is best to use the one by the gift shop. From there you follow the path between the pond and the large rock outcropping, then you go through a sheep gate and into a field where sheep are grazing. (Yeah, we got to hike with sheep, something I really wanted to do!)Turn left and walk along the fence and you will reach the wall. Wow! This is a spectacular sight, and the view to the north from it is fabulous. Even on a cloudy day, we could see beautiful countryside for miles and miles. Emperor Hadrian started the wall in AD 122 and it is 9 ft thick, with walls originally 15 feet high. In any event, we hiked along the wall, with the wind swirling around us, expansive views on our left and grazing sheep on our right. DS #1 loved this-he is really an outdoorsman and not a city sightseer. I wish we could have hiked it longer, but we wanted to see the museum and also two castles so we backtracked after about an hour. We did pass some people who were seriosly outfitted for distance hiking- if we return to the area, I think we'll do that as well as try the Hadrian's cycleway.

The ROMAN ARMY MUSEUM was interesting and we spent maybe 30 minutes there, then left for the one hour and 15 minute drive to Alnwick (pronounced Onnick) Castle. I really don't think we spent enough time at the wall and related sites. Our family could have spent one full day here.

ALNWICK CASTLE was of interest to us as a filming site for the Harry Potter movies. I expected we would possible skip the gardens and focus on recognizable parts of the castle. What we got out of the visit was completely different. By the time we arrived, we were starving. From the car park, the first thing we encountered was the Alnwick Gardens, and so we decided to see both the castle and the gardens, and because the skies had cleared and it was beautiful and about 70 degrees, we decided to go through the line at the cafeteria style eatery that faces the huge signature fountain at the entrance to the gardens. This is a beautiful tiered fountain with different water displays that start, I think, every 20 or 30 minutes. We sat outdoors at a table facing the fountain and sipped wine and local ale and stared at that fountain for a long time. The boys ran off and explored the garden and since they were out of sight and it was so pretty, and we were out of wine and ale, we went and got another glass of wine and ale and sat there some more. Aahh, relaxed. There were many families lounging on the grounds around the fountain and, if our boys had been little, they would have enjoyed playing in these ride on front end loaders that the little ones were using to load water from the fountain and transport, then dump. The boys came back and then we all did the bamboo maze, which was fun. There were lots of other areas of the garden that we did not see, and there is a treehouse that contains a restaurant.

We left the garden and strolled to the castle. On the way, there was an area with two archery instructors where the boys paid something like 2GBP for 5 arrows and had a go at it. Again, they loved this and the instructors were very good. This was closing down at about 3:00. We walked into the castle and listened in on one of the guided tours for a moment, which was focused on the different movies filmed here. Here is the thing that we did not know- -the interior of the castle is not featured in any of the Harry Potter movies. So, if you are travelling there to see lots of familiar sights from the film, you won't. You WILL see the courtyard where Harry learned to fly. There were various tours and exhibitions including birds of pray, magic and wizardry and themed tours. Little ones can dress up as a knight or lady. One of the most fascinating things about the castle is that the Percy family still lives there and I can't remember exactly, but there are many many rooms in the castle and only a handful are open to the public. This was a very worthwhile stop, and surprisingly, due more to the garden than the castle.

On to BAMBURGH CASTLE, about 20 minutes to the north. I had a feeling that we were not going to get there in time for the last admission (4:30), but I thought that just the sight of it and being able to walk the beach and dunes around it would be the best part of it for us anyway. Of course, again, the GPS didn't accept the address that we had from the guide book, which was "3 miles north of Seahouses, Bamburgh", so we got a little turned around and on some tiny unnamed roads. As usual for our family, when we are driving somewhere unknown, on unnamed roads, and a little lost, it starts to rain. Thus it did, but we could see the stunning castle in the distance and got there just fine. The parking lot adjacent to the castle closes at 4:00, so we parked at the lower parking lot, took our umbrellas, raised our hoods and set out to climb the hill to the castle. It was pretty chilly and there was a light rain. DS #2 must stop first at one of the ubiquitous Mr. Softie ice cream stands and buy a cone. The castle was magnificient from the outside and we walked around as far as we could go - -the original Norman keep is clearly visible. From the top you can see the Holy Island and for miles, the beach and dunes. The tide was in and there was a lone surfer in the sea, full wetsuit with hood and gloves. Just when we thought we might walk down to the dunes and explore the beach, the rain turned into a driving rain and the light breeze into a howling wind and we were kind of shivering and struggling to keep our umbrellas right-side-out. And we had a long walk down the hill to the lower parking lot. So, I started thinking about a cocktail in the drawing room at the hotel and that was as much of Bamburgh Castle as I needed to see. Would love to return, and to go to Lindisfarne.

DS#2 and I reach the parking together, hoods fully up and drawn, my shoulders hunched up under my raincoat, pants soaked (love those goretex trail runners, though), walking as fast as I can to get to the car, and what does DS #2 say? He wants another Mr. Softie! So, here we are in a driving cold North Sea rain, and I'm holding the golf umbrella over him while he digs for a couple of pounds and then eats an ice cream cone. As soon as he made the purchase the Mr. Softie lady folds up the counter and drives the truck away- -I'm sure thinking that no other idiot will want a cone in this weather.

About an hour and a half later, back at the hotel, nice shower, drawing room, aaaaah. Tonight's music was nice, I think some 1920's to 1950's instrumental swing music and jazz.
The hotel made a fabulous banana split dessert for the boys. After dinner, we decided to watch the movie, Dracula, in our room in the castle. We were watching Dracula because our next stop would be Whitby and the surrounding area, on the Yorkshire coast. Whitby was the town where Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula, by watching coffins being carried up the steps to the cemetary.

With the window open and no screen on it, and Dracula on my mind, I was pretty sure that a bat would alight on the sill of our window be in our room that night, but I slept well anyway, content after a really great day.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 8th, 2009, 01:03 PM
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Wow, rileypenny, sounds like a very full day.

We saw Bamburgh Castle many years ago when we lived in the UK. We didn't go inside but loved how foreboding it looked from the outside. Sorry the weather turned so nasty.
bettyk is offline  
Aug 8th, 2009, 01:23 PM
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Yes, I would have liked to walk around on the beach, bettyk, so I hope we can return and see the inside and walk the beach.

Here is some information from the Alnwick Garden brochure that I found. There is a sticker with new pricing that was placed over the old pricing:

Garden tickets only are 9GBP, or 1 pence for children.
Castle tickets only are 11.95GBP for adults and 4.95 for children.
Garden and Castle together are 17.50 and 4.95.
A combined ticket is good for two days

The garden is open every day except Christmas Day, April to September 10-6, and October-March 10-4.

There is an address on the bottom of the garden's brochure that might work better in a GPS than what I had:

The Alnwick Garden
Denwick Lane
Alnwick, Northumberland, NE66 1YU

It was signposted well off the A1.
The brochure says that the main east coast line from London to Edinburgh stops at Alnmouth, 4 miles away.

No dogs in the garden except guide dogs.
rileypenny is offline  
Aug 8th, 2009, 05:14 PM
Join Date: Oct 2005
Posts: 65,945
Just give me a trusty road atlas - I've read way too many news reports out of the UK where that soothing voice out of a GPS has sent some poor unsuspecting visitor or lorry driver into farm yards, river fords, or just completely the wrong way.

A map book will get you where you want to go
janisj is offline  

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