Trip Report - SW England

Aug 15th, 2010, 03:12 PM
  #1  
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Trip Report - SW England

I’ve finally found a spare moment to type up a somewhat lengthy trip report for our mid-May trip around South West England. I didn’t end up asking many questions on these forums but certainly appreciated the feedback when I did, plus the wealth of information in the answers to other questions was helpful. Hopefully, some of this long winded report will be of interest and use to other travelers. I’ll post it in sections to keep it manageable (I really did try to cut it down!)

A bit of background: We’re a younger couple in our late 30s/early 40s who tend to be the sorts of travelers who pack a lot into the journey. We’re getting better at staying in one location for more than one night but still end up with very full itineraries. You’ve been warned! This was our first trip to the SW of England but we have been to London relatively recently. I should also say that DH loves driving generally and is getting to be an old hand at driving in the UK, so we do cover a fair bit of distance in the car. There will be some mention of restaurants and eating but our budget leans more to picnic lunches, pub food and sandwiches so I’ve only noted restaurants when we were splashing out somewhere nicer and particularly enjoyed our meals. We’re both keen on history, especially pre-historic into the Roman period, so there’s lots of traipsing around to stone circles and old spots in this report too.

Day One
Overnight flight from Halifax (Nova Scotia) to Heathrow - Inexplicably, the flight over made me quite motion sick - possibly due to off food or the slight but almost continuous turbulence, not sure (sorry if that’s too much information - just included it to explain why Day One was pretty much a write off, despite arriving at an early hour).

Arrived at LHR and I was feeling better for being and so headed to the Central Bus Station to get the next bus to Bath. Unfortunately, the bus is overheated and full of highly scented passengers, which makes for another queasy trip. Arrived in Bath by midafternoon quite worn out.

Once in Bath, we made our way to our first B&B (Badminton Villa, a short but uphill walk from the bus station) where we were welcomed by Steve, one of the friendly owners, with helpful tips for the area and nearby food options. We chose the nearby neighbourhood gastropub, The Bear, which was delicious. After supper, we crash and recuperate in the room, which is a good size, well presented, clean and outfitted with the all important array of tea things and biscuits.

Day Two - Out and About in Bath
Up and out after a yummy breakfast (Full English with black pudding too for himself, smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for myself). The weather was looking grey and changeable, and cooler than expected.

Our first and primary destination is the Roman Baths and we spend a number of hours there. The audio guides are wonderful, the character actors are fun and the presentation is incredibly well done (this was one of our top historic sites from this trip). And the space itself is just astonishing - the heat from the water, the drains, the size and extent of the complex.

We exited via the Pump Room and we did partake of the warm and minerally glass of spring water included with the ticket and hopefully didn’t make as ghastly a face as some of the other tourists sampling the healthful tonic.

Given that the weather hadn’t improved, we decide to visit the Abbey, which was lovely. A choir practice was in progress, lending a musical atmosphere to the space.

From there, we wandered the very walkable city, up to Pulteney Bridge and across to Laura Place and Great Pulteney Street to see the Georgian townhouses. A bit of shopping happened here and there too.

Dinner at Solo Pizza in Milsom Place which was reasonably good food-wise but suffered somewhat from lack lustre service.

Returning to the B&B, we called Enterprise car rental to arrange to be collected on Monday.

Day Three - Bath Continued
Today, we took the free Walking Tour with the Mayor of Bath’s honourary guides, about 2 1/2 hours in length and led by a sprightly older gentleman who clearly loved his city. The focus was very much on the architecture, history of the baths and a few Jane Austeny bits thrown in for good measure. Another activity I would definitely recommend for anyone visiting Bath, it’s such a fabulous overview of the city (historically and geographically)

Following the guided walk, we headed back to the Royal Crescent and Circus for more in depth and up close viewing (and to marvel that people actually get to live there).

Supper at Jamie’s Italian which is a labyrinthine place and delicious (had a table that looked over the street so there was people watching to entertain us). You know I said we didn’t eat out a lot but in Bath, there was such a great variety of places to try - there are more sandwiches in our future...

After supper, we walked to Sydney Gardens and then on to the canal path back around past the rail station. Saw wild (presumably) swans and the canal locks in action.
NS_Crowgirl is offline  
Aug 15th, 2010, 03:56 PM
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Great start, so glad you enjoyed Badminton Villa as we have that pencilled in for next June so its nice to hear a good report about it and also the Mayors guided walk. Looking forward to more.
Maudie is offline  
Aug 16th, 2010, 01:27 PM
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ooh, did you make it down here to Cornwall?

looking forward to more,

regard, ann
annhig is offline  
Aug 16th, 2010, 02:50 PM
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Annhig - stay tuned! We did wend our way to Cornwall.

Day Four - To the Cotswolds, via South Wales
Goodbye to Badminton Villa (and Steve, Heather and Matilda the friendly dog). Collected by Enterprise and with a wee bit of rearranging due to DH's credit card being comprised three days before we left, we have our car (an automatic, much to DH/the car nut’s chagrin. We could have had a standard but would have had to take the next size up of car and knowing the narrow roads we’d be encountering, we opted for the smaller vehicle) and with our recently purchased GPS fired up, we’re off for South Wales via the Severn Bridge.

First stop is Chepstow Castle which is much larger than I’d expected, with a long history of occupation and numerous modifications in each era. Looks as if there’s some renovations beginning around the castle with scaffolding going up in various areas.

Next, we’re on to Tintern Abbey (quite nearby) which is a splendid, Gothic ruin with white doves that atmospherically inhabit the nooks and crannies.

In both cases, a guidebook would have enhanced the experience somewhat as neither had much in the way of informational boards or signage (Chepstow was reasonable but at Tintern, you clearly had to have the guidebook as there was often only a reference number on the signage). I’m not fond of this trend - looking back at past trips to other sites (Roman Baths, Edinburgh Castle, Tower of London), I’m not recalling that you needed the guidebook to understand the sites, they were merely an optional add-on to further flesh out what was already there, information-wise.

Here, we also encountered our first hiccup with the GPS. Our plan was to proceed up the Wye Valley through the Forest of Dean into Gloucestershire and the Cotwolds. Our GPS (called Giles) only wanted to take us back across the Severn Bridge to get to our ultimate destination of Stow on the Wold. The option of adding a ‘via’ point to better direct the routing is a bit of a stumbling block if you don’t have a handy map to determine what that point might actually BE to program it in. Eventually, we just set out following the road signs until we were close enough to Gloucestershire/further away enough from the bridge that the direct route being suggested by the GPS would take us approximately the way we wanted to go. Due to this frustration (which involved a bit of starting out, stopping, fiddling with GPS, cursing and head scratching) and Chepstow taking a fair bit more time than I’d anticipated, we didn’t get to see much of the Cotswolds en route to the B&B.

Our next B&B was South Hill Farm on the edge of Stow on the Wold was located without problem (this location was fine with a friendly welcome but compared to Badminton Villa, seemed a bit of a lesser spot - certainly the Wifi signal was patchy and the room was a bit too ‘done’ with fussy decorative details but missing the nice touches of the previous B&B). We’d picked this spot so we could leave the car for a bit and walk into Stow for our evening meal. Unfortunately, we were told most restaurants in Stow might be closed because of ‘the Fair’ and because it was Monday (I can’t recall ever reading that Monday was a ‘closed’ day in this part of the Cotswolds but I’m betting there are some regulars here who can clarify this). We walked into the village and found this was so. It’s a pretty village but the tumbleweeds were definitely blowing down the street and the only people to be seen were a handful of other touristy looking types possibly also in search of food.

We did eventually find one place open in the Old Stocks Inn which had a reasonably lively pub and almost completely deserted restaurant. Later learned that the Fair was an annual gathering of travelers and Romany who gather in a nearby village to trade horses and news. Not sure why this meant that everything closed down unless the village all either a) went to the fair or b) shut down to avoid the fair-goers?

Walking back to the B&B, we detoured through the churchyard to see the yew framed church door, which Rick Steves tells me inspired Tolkien. Don’t know if this is true but it was indeed very magical looking in the half light.

Day Five - In Which We Revise Our Cotswolds Plans
Okay, I’ll confess, here’s where my cramming too much into our schedule started to run aground (I will learn from this, I will). I’d hoped to have had a bit more time in the Cotswolds to take in more of the recommended villages, but given the delays of yesterday, we took a hard look at our plans over breakfast and whittled the day’s sights down a bit. Unfortunately this meant that the Cotswolds area was rather given short shrift, but there’s always a next time.

Our new plans took us to Bourton on the Water which was just gorgeous with the canals and streams, chocolate box houses. We were there early and avoided the crowds but would definitely come back to this town over Stow (more going on, more options for food and wandering within the town). Canals full of ducks and trout, interesting (and well yes, tourist driven) shops, including a ‘For Let’ bookshop that was too adorable for words - I took a photo and have been telling everyone at home that it’s where we’re relocating my bookstore. Also found an old fashioned candy shop where highly elusive floral gums were located for my friend Sky who can’t get them anywhere at home. Gave in and bought a road map to back up the GPS too.

On to Lower Slaughter which was even lovelier. We strolled around the picturesque cottages and up to the old mill but decided against the walk to Upper Slaughter in the interest of time.

Now on to the really old bits - the Rollright Stones (a stone circle) and nearby Whispering Knights (a formation of stones from a burial chamber that looks like a group huddled together in conversation) and onwards from there to the White Horse of Uffington which was quite the special visit. I’ve been fascinated with this huge figure cut into the chalk hillside for some time. It’s one of the few (possibly only) hill figures that is actually ancient and it’s just a beautiful image. The walk from the parking lot was a bit longer than expected (and we did discover a closer lot after we’d paid and displayed) but from the White Horse hill we saw the Manger (quite the deep valley), panoramic views across the Wiltshire countryside, Uffington Castle (a ring fort with impressive ditches) and St.George’s Hill (where he slew the dragon, according to myth). We spent some time up by the horse’s head (didn’t actually stand in the eye to make a wish, as requested not to by signage).

For the next two nights, we stay with family friends in nearby Enford.

Day Six - Avebury, Stonehenge, Lots of Rocks, really
Up and out early to Avebury via the backroads - lots of thatched roof cottages and good view of the Pewsey chalk horse en route

Avebury - walked the full circle around the village, admiring the huge banks and ditches. Visited both on site museums (the old barn seemed to be more geared to younger children with interactive displays. In the Alexander Keiller Museum saw the much contested skeleton and am glad she’s not been reburied but also felt she deserved a bit more attention, in terms of the information and presentation). The Avebury stones are individually and collectively much larger than many of the stone circles we’ve seen in the past. Looking forward to reading the Mike Pitts book ‘Hengeworld’ I picked up in the NT shop.

Next stop, a view of Silbury Hill (which is impressively large and looks decidedly unexciting in my photos) and then across the road to climb the hill to the West Kennet Long Barrow.

Stonehenge - We had reserved an evening timeslot for the after hours access and were able to enter during the afternoon to gain access to the audio guides (which are well done). Must say, I’m astonished at the lack of visitor facilities for a monument of this stature. Looking at what’s offered at Newgrange, for example, they could be showcasing this treasure (and capitalising on tourist interest) so much better.

For everyone who says Stonehenge is smaller than expected: a)how big exactly did you expect it to be? The monument is pretty darn large b)it’s larger again when you step inside the circle with the big trilithons looming over you c)the site itself is set within a vast panorama of a landscape and possibly it might seem a touch dwarfed by that massive vista (maybe).

The pathway does afford a decent view and if the site isn’t busy, you can craftily shoot the stones without another person visible (it helps that the weather was unseasonable cold). At the entrance to the site, they have an example of the sarsen stone (larger stones) and Preseli bluestone (smaller stones) used in the monument that you can touch (they say bluestones are always warmer to the touch, and it’s true!)

After a tea break, we investigated nearby Woodhenge and Durrington Walls (which is immense itself and sadly well ploughed and cut by the Amesbury Road).

After Hours Access - well worth the extra cost (especially since you can also visit the site during regular hours on the day of your After Hours access). Our group could have been as large as 30 but for whatever reason (weather? time of year?) the group was 6 people plus we two. You’re limited in what you can and cannot do (disappointingly, you can’t touch the stones due to preservation of lichens on surfaces but I can respect that). Our group entered the site with our attendant security guard (who was quite friendly and unobtrusive, but also happy to answer questions and point out interesting features like the Neolithic dagger carving and Christopher Wren’s graffiti). Due to the chill, the other six of our group departed after half an hour and we were alone with the stones.

The site is very enclosed feeling, with the large trilithons literally looming over you. It’s not quite eerie but it sets you back and I felt a need to be quiet and respectful. The pairs of rooks nesting in the various crevices of the stones are constantly on the move, darting and swooping across the sky and popping in and out of their nests, crying their odd sharp calls.
NS_Crowgirl is offline  
Aug 16th, 2010, 03:52 PM
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NS_Crowgirl:

Interesting story about being offered an automatic rather than a manual. Glad you quickly saw the value of having a decent map in addition to your GPS.

Glad you quickly got over your travel sickness. I am sure that bus ride must have been quite awful.

Carry on please. This is a delightful report.

Sandy
SandyBrit is offline  
Aug 17th, 2010, 08:23 AM
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Also loved Tintern.

Looking forward to Cornwall.
hopingtotravel is offline  
Aug 17th, 2010, 08:39 AM
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hi crowgirl,

there seem to be a lot of threads around at the moment that remind me of my childhood. i had a very elderly "aunt" and "uncle" in a residential home in Bourton so we went there a lot. it was touristy even then, but very charming. do you think that the ducks are the descendants of the ones I used to feed?

Sadly I am unable to explain why Stow is a particularly bad spot for supper on Mondays, except to say that out of season they probably do little trade, as locals tend to stay at home. as they say round here - "I've had 15 people ask for that today, and like I told them, there's no call for it".
annhig is offline  
Aug 17th, 2010, 09:59 AM
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<>

No doubt flanner will be more informed than I, but from what I have heard over the years b) will most likely be the reason the town closed down on that particular Monday.

I'm enjoying your report and looking forward to the rest. It's not too long-winded so don't worry.

I'm going to Avebury tomorrow with a couple of my kids for a day out. I've been several times before over the years, but I'm going to look out for the Mike Pitts book you mention.
julia_t is offline  
Aug 17th, 2010, 01:26 PM
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Please continue. I am enjoying reliving some of my earlier trips and eagerly checking out details for further ones.
irishface is offline  
Aug 17th, 2010, 03:36 PM
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Thanks for the positive responses! Here's a bit more:

Day Seven - Glastonbury
Farewell to our friends in Enford and on to Glastonbury where we parked and went straight up the Tor after a quick orientation at the TI. Oh my, that’s a steep hike (and this was the easier of the paths!) but the view across the land from the top is astonishing (five counties if I recall the information board correctly).
Glastonbury itself is quite the production - lots of great little shops, lots of tat, lots of sincerity, lots of overblown and overwrought ego-fanning. Particularly liked the New Age mall - The Glastonbury Experience - with stone encrusted shops, Goddess Temple, veggie cafe and friendly dog. Did a wee bit of shopping at some wonderful shops (shout out to the Goddess and the Green Man). Stayed at Apple B&B which was our most ‘staying in someone’s home’ sort of accommodation (the room was very nice and spacious with organic and vegetarian friendly snacks and hot drinks). The owners were a bit heavy handed with the incense burning (and this sort of thing usually doesn't bother me so you know it was intense). Not my favourite B&B but very close to the centre of town.

Day Eight - Onwards to Dartmoor
AM in Glastonbury - to the Chalice Well Gardens which are peaceful and welcoming. From the actual Chalice Well (with the iconic well cover) the spring flows downhill through various healing pools, fountains and water courses. There are many areas you can sit and be still, pray, meditate, whatever your style. We did collect some water from the spring too.

From Glastonbury to Dartmoor via roads large (the M-5) and small (including the narrowest bridge we’ve ever encountered, so much so that the single track road narrowed notably approaching the bridge). Also, all manner of creatures on the road: sheep, chickens, cows and horses with riders and, at one point, the road sign said ‘ford’ and that’s what we did - through a small stream running over the road).

Weather through Dartmoor continued cold and misty (made it very atmospheric - you can see how it inspired The Hound of the Baskervilles). The moorlands are a very different landscape from the area we’d just left - more desolate and windswept - very much like the Scottish Highlands in spots.

Saw the Grimspound round hut foundations (Bronze Age), a few Dartmoor ponies and the old clapper bridge at Postbridge but the cold kept us in the car mostly. The High Moor Visitor in Princeton wasn’t especially outstanding (I’d have liked more information on the archaeology of the area, myself) but we did have a restorative tea at nearby Lord’s Cafe.

Our B&B this night was The Hunter’s Lodge in Dartmeet (nice large room, no wifi). Their supper recommendation, The Rugglestone Inn in nearby Widecombe in the Moor, was spot on - good food, full of locals and their dogs.

Day Nine - Cornwall by way of more old things made of rocks
On the road towards Cornwall with much improved weather.
Stopped at the Merrivale stone rows, and once in Cornwall, the Trethevy Quoit and The Hurlers stone circle near Minions.

From there straight on to St. Ives where our overzealous GPS took us through some stress inducingly narrow streets before we found our accommodation for the next few day, Edgar’s B&B (friendly and clean).

Walked downhill into town to wander the twisty streets and mingle with the holiday crowds (if this is what it’s like in May...). Dinner at the Sloop Inn (good pub fare - tried Doom Bar bitter, a local brew. Thumbs up from us both). Got a bit of a sense of the famous light (very rich and golden) and the Mediterranean feel of the area (palm trees, white sands, turquoise water, sunburnt holiday makers). The only downside: the walk back up the hill to the B&B.
NS_Crowgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2010, 11:19 AM
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aah - you've arrived in Cornwall at last. Welcome.

Walked downhill into town to wander the twisty streets and mingle with the holiday crowds (if this is what it’s like in May...). >>

I can heartily recommend St. Ives in November. the rest of the year - forget it. but the Doom Bar is good, I'll agree.

looking forward to more!
annhig is offline  
Aug 18th, 2010, 03:03 PM
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Day 10 - St. Ives
Grey day so headed to the Tate Gallery which had just opened for the season (and one of the exhibits was not yet ready to open so there was reduced admission). I should mention that I'm making good use of my student ID to get concession rates. I'll get my money's worth out of this degree one way or another... The other show traced modernist works using the triple motifs of object, gesture and grids. Successful execution of the concept if the art itself wasn’t my cup of tea.

Out onto Porthmeor Beach where DH put his toes in and reported it was cold, but not as bad as Cape Breton beaches in August.

Next on the road to St. Michael’s Mount under variable skies. Walked out the causeway - didn’t go into the museum areas, just appreciated from the outside against a dark sky.

Rest of the afternoon visited Chysauster Ancient Village (similar to Skara Brae in some respects but much latter, straddling BC/AD timeframe).

Back in St. Ives we hit the Ocean Grill for dinner and it was just fabulous (fresh sea bass with wasabi mash).

Day 11 Stone Circle Day
Today, we were all over this part of Cornwall, on the hunt for stone circles and quoits. We visited: Men-an-Tol , Lanyon Quoit, Madron Well and the Celtic chapel and baptistry, and Boscwen-Un. As well as being interested in these sites from an archaeological perspective, I wanted to see some of them because they are some of the settings of Charles deLint's novel The Little Country. If you're not as enthused about these things as I am, I do think that Men-an-Tol is worth a visit for its unique holed stone in the centre of the circle. None of these sites had any visitor interpretation so I'd done some pre-trip research and printed out lots of useful information to take with (and to help find the sites - some of the marker signs were REALLY small and hidden in hedges).

After a late lunch in a stone circle, off to the Merry Maidens/Tregiffian Burial Chamber with glimpses of Gun Rith stone in field nearby. The Merry Maidens is the only stone circle we’ve encountered with its own bus stop!

Our last stop of the day was Mousehole. Parked and walked the waterfront of this hilly harbour town and had a lovely cream tea. Saw the house where Dolly Pentreath (last native Cornish speaker) lived. I know the language is being revived and would have loved to hear someone actually speaking it but realize that was a pretty slim chance. As a learner of another minority language (Scottish Gaelic), I had my ears open for Cornish and Welsh (when we had our brief wander into Wales.

Supper in St. Ives at Pepper’s Pasta which was also very good.

Day 12 - Tintagel
Left St. Ives to travel back along northern coast of Cornwall, stopping in Tintagel.

Tintagel - wow, nothing prepared us for the incredibly steep walk down to the castle entrance area (in fairness, we could have taken the landrover up and down, but we were feeling energetic and frugal) and then the even more astonishing climb back UP the narrow, steep, sort of scary stairs to get to the ruins. I mean I knew it was on a promontory, but this was grueling for a healthy young person.

Gorgeous views of the surrounding sea caves and inlet (and the blue, blue water).

Small whine here - admission was one of the higher prices we’d paid and while they do offer to sell you a guidebook for an additional cost at the entrance (at the bottom of the stairs), I sort of assumed there’d be something in the way of informational signage (and that the guidebook was just ‘extra detail’ like the Stonehenge or Roman Baths guides). But no, once you drag yourself up the stairs, all you find are area names and number markers referencing the guidebook. Argh. For the price, I’d expected a bit more information. Failing that, I wish someone had told us that we really NEEDED the guidebook at the start because there was no way on earth I was climbing back down the stairs to buy one, and then up again! Whine ends here.

Considered stopping at the Boscastle Witchcraft Museum but felt there wasn’t time as Tintagel had taken longer than anticipated.

On to Barnstaple where our B&B was a bit more basic than any of the others (bathroom was actually the former closet, complete with original sliding closet door) and a bit tired. Sort of run down area of town (glad it was just one night). Not sure I should mention a name as I'm not being very flattering about the establishment.

Had dinner with a long lost friend (recently re-found through the joys of Face Book) and his family in nearby Great Torrington.
NS_Crowgirl is offline  
Aug 18th, 2010, 03:59 PM
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I loved Cornwall when I went in June. Can't wait to re-live my trip through yours = )
sam86 is offline  
Aug 18th, 2010, 05:43 PM
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Love your report; good to include the honest assessments and we all probably whine about something sometime--you're just honest enough to include yours! Your details are more interesting; looking foreward to the rest.
texasbookworm is offline  
Aug 18th, 2010, 07:43 PM
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I did Tintagel on a hot day in 1998. I felt it was one of the most beautiful places ever, and felt badly that DH couldn't participate due to recent knee surgery. They may not have had the L R then. I've read a lot of King Arthur 'stuff' so was really into it.

As sam says, reliving through your trip!
hopingtotravel is offline  
Aug 19th, 2010, 05:41 AM
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>>I know the language is being revived and would have loved to hear someone actually speaking it but realize that was a pretty slim chance.<<

The internet's a wonderful thing:
http://radyo.kernewegva.com/
PatrickLondon is offline  
Aug 19th, 2010, 08:00 AM
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our one trip to Tintagel was on a VERY hot day. that walk back up was a killer. I don't remember the poor signage, but i think i was being distracted by whining offspring at the time.

your tour of the standing stones sounds interesting - after 13 years in the county i have yet to visit one. I heard cornish though - there are some cornish poets who do a very good and funny turn alternating cornish and english which is fun. sadly, I think that the idea that Dolly Pentreath only spoke cornish is a myth, but I do have a [cornish] GF whose christian name is Pentreath!
annhig is offline  
Aug 19th, 2010, 08:10 AM
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You might have benefited from buying a Great British Heritage Pass. It gives you free admission to all the National Trust, English Heritage, and Cadw (Welsh heritage) sites. (Also National Trust for Scotland and Historic Scotland.) So you would have been able to use it for Chepstow, Tintern Abbey, the Roman Baths, Tintagel etc.

NB for future travels and other travelers.
Mimar is offline  
Aug 19th, 2010, 02:42 PM
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Mimar - we did look at a variety of the passes available but, for us, when we did the math, we weren't hitting enough of the sites covered to make up the cost of the pass. I think if we were going to more of the historic houses and gardens, it would have quickly added up though.

Patrick - The internet is indeed a wonderful thing! Thanks for the link. I do love hearing a language spoken in situ - it really adds to the memories from a trip. I have a wonderful recollection of being on Lewis and hearing people transacting their daily business in Gaelic.
I'll be in your neck of the woods in the next installment.
NS_Crowgirl is offline  
Aug 19th, 2010, 03:05 PM
  #20  
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And here's the last of the trip report:

Day 13 - The Last Bit of Devon (and the last of the stone circles, really)
Left Barnstaple and travelled on through Exmoor, stopping in Selworthy (pretty with its thatched cottages). Exmoor is (to my eye) less scenic than Dartmoor but still very wild.

Pushed on to Wells for a late lunch and wandered around the Cathedral, Bishop’s Palace with its picturesque moat, and the Vicar’s Close which was so Harry Potter, with uniformed school children bustling around. I'm adding Wells to my 'spend more time here next time' list.

Our final stop was Stanton Drew Great Circle and the Cove stones in the Druid’s Arms pub’s beer garden. This was a last minute decision to visit Stanton Drew, based on DH reading my book, Hengeworld, which noted its significance and relatively ignored status. I think we'll see more study of this site in future years. It's not really a must-see unless you're keen on the circles like we were, though.

At our B&B, School Cottage, in Farmborough, we’re early and there’s a note on the door to call a mobile number to contact the owner (we don’t have a mobile, and didn’t see a phonebox in the nearby village), so we wait until other guests arrive who helpfully let us in and allow us to use their mobile. We’d thought about buying a mobile phone this trip to use for such occasions and for future travels but didn’t feel like adding to the technology we were already hauling around. Live and learn! This is a wonderful B&B, tastefully decorated with many original features, gorgeous gardens and a delicious breakfast in the morning. Would have liked to have stayed longer here!

We’d hoped to leave the car and walk to the nearby pub for supper but it wasn’t serving food due to kitchen renovations. The owner’s recommendation of a nearby inn, The Hunter’s Rest is spot on - good food and a cozy atmosphere (and easy to follow driving directions too).

Day 14 - Last stop: London
Returned car to Bath with no troubles and get a return lift to the train station. No trouble picking up our tickets and with our extra time, we wander back to the centre of town and take turns watching the bags while the other wanders and does last minute shopping, picking up sandwiches for the train, get cash, etc.

Emphatic personal statement here: This was the first UK train I've been on (all previous trips have been either by car or bus). I loved, loved, loved the train! Trains are the way to go - I’m not getting on another bus unless I have to! So smooth and roomy! We booked our tickets early and were able to get a super good price too.

In London, we buy our Oyster Cards and are briefly flummoxed by the new Circle Line arrangement but are soon back on familiar territory at the Crescent Hotel in Bloomsbury. Room 6, overlooking the courtyard. I do like this part of Bloomsbury - the crescent the hotel is situated on is generally quiet and it's an easy walk to both King's Cross and Russell Square tube stations.

Spent the rest of the day at the British Museum (we were in London two years ago and spent a portion of almost every day at the Museum, so we've seen the must-see highlights already), revisiting the Sutton Hoo display, seeing Lindow Man (who was on loan last trip), plus the Living and Dying exhibit. Between this trip and our last, I THINK we've seen somewhere between a half and 2/3 of the collection.

Supper at one of our favourite chains, Giraffe. Sorry if that horrifies the foodies - but their Thai Duck stirfry is fabulous.

Day 15
Up and out to St. Paul’s Cathedral early. Last trip we visited Westminster Abbey and this was quite the contrast with the extensive ornamentation and gilding. We walked up to the Whispering Gallery (and tested it out, of course - I could hear DH clearly from the other side of the dome even with the gallery crowded with noisy schoolchildren!). Onwards to the first balcony and up again to the next level (where you can look through a small portal back down to the now miniature sized cathedral floor). It's a bit claustrophobic up there so be warned.

Our next stop was the still-being-refurbished Museum of London. Happily, the galleries that were open were the early history (Neolithic to Roman), which was of the most interest. I was impressed by the quality of the exhibits and would definitely return to see the later period galleries on another trip.

Our museum sampling continued at the British Museum and the Ancient Egypt Eye Opener tour (a very well done snapshot of Egyptian history).

The weather, in complete contrast to the Southwest, is now very warm and sunny, and we head back to the hotel to cool off/freshen up.

That evening we took in the London Walks Haunted London tour with Corinna (very much the thespian in her spooky garb). The walk started from the Monument (which was under renovation last visit and is now unscaffolded and striking). The walk was enjoyable, with ghost tales and a few songs and ended at a haunted pub near the Barbican.

Day 16
The National Portrait Gallery is on the morning plans - I really enjoyed having a chance to put faces to familiar names from history: Emmeline Pankhurst, Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Flora MacDonald, Bonnie Prince Charlie and so many others. The changing styles of personal representation was also fascinating.

Finishing up, we wandered up to Cecil Court and Watkins Books (and some serious book buying) and then to Covent Garden and Treadwells (where some book shopping also went on. As I told DH, at least I waited until the end of the trip to load up on books).

Late lunch at Ponti’s, one of the Italian eateries inside Covent Garden (yes, touristy and pricey but great people watching and the pizza was tasty).

Feeling a bit exhausted by the crowds and heat, we spent a bit of time wandering along the Victorian Embankment until our feet were too sore to continue, then back to the hotel to flake out, check our flight and pack.

Supper at Yo! Sushi in the nearby Brunswick Centre (another of our favourite UK chains we don't have at home). Not the best sushi in the world but we're also easily entertained by the novelty of grabbing your food off the conveyor belt as it passes by - 'what's that?', 'I don't know, it just looked good','are you going to eat it before you figure out what it is?' and so on.

Day 17 - And homewards again
Caught first train on the Piccadilly Line to Heathrow. Check in and security were speedy and then on to duty free for DH to stock up on scotch and to grab a quick brekkie (I don't mean the scotch!). By that point, they were announcing our gate and there was just enough time to walk to briskly walk to the gate and find they were already boarding the plane!
Smooth and non-queasy trip home, thankfully with luggage waiting for us at the other end!

Thanks to everyone for the comments and encouragement. We tend to travel every two years for our 'big' trip so I'll be lurking on this board until then, soaking up ideas and tips.
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