Driving Tour of England
6/11/13 to 6/22/13
Due to the length of the review, it is in two parts to help with the download time. The link to the other page is at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Towns of York, Bowness-on-Windermere, Stratford upon Avon
Page 2 - Towns of Bath, Wells, Salisbury, Southampton, Portsmouth
Since I had just retired in March, I would now be able to take much longer vacations. In addition to a 14 day Baltic cruise, we were going to spend 10 days driving around the English countryside to see some of the smaller towns. We had already spent several days in London before a previous cruise. We loved London; but had wanted to experience more of England.
Originally, when planning our driving tour around England, I had hoped to also be able to go into Scotland. Once I started to lay out the schedule, there was no way we could spend enough time in the English towns we wanted to visit and also visit Scotland. Since we were going to be away from home for 25 days, we did have to make some compromises. Also, with us already having another cruise out of Southampton, England booked for 2014, we decided that we were doing enough for this year.
The only town that I was rather concerned about was York, since we could only spend one night there. Our plane was scheduled to arrive at Heathrow at 6:40 AM and it is only a 2.5 hour drive to York, so I figured we would be able to arrive around lunch time and do some touring that 1st afternoon. That would mean we would have two half-days of touring in York, which we decided would be okay. Before we left the house for the airport, we received an email notifying us that the flight was going to be delayed by 2.5 hours. Not a good way to start a vacation. It ended up being 3 hours. Apparently, while the plane was still in London, they couldn’t get the airplane’s cargo hold opened. That sure seems like an easy problem to fix; but apparently not.
Once we arrived at Heathrow, we headed for the Hertz rental counter. I had rented a Vauxhall, since I was very worried about my ability to drive on some of the narrower roads, especially on the wrong side of the road. I figured the Vauxhall would be able to hold all of our luggage and would be a narrower car; plus I had ordered automatic transmission, since I surely didn’t want to try driving a stick shift with my left hand.
The agent had been taking a long time with the paper work, when she gave me the good news. I was going to be upgraded to a brand new Mercedes Benz C250 Diesel coupe with just 8 miles on the odometer. Well that sounded like really great news. Boy was I wrong! The car looked really nice. The trunk looked really small and there wasn’t much of a back seat in the 2 door car. It was a real challenge to get the two large suitcases in the trunk. Then it was difficult to get the other suitcase and carryon bag in the back seat. I should have rejected the car and gotten one that would suit my purposes better; but I didn’t. I also should have gotten the optional insurance. I hadn’t thought about how every little bit of damage would show up as my fault. Oh well, at least I was going to get to drive a really cool car for 8 days and it did ride so smoothly.
Before the trip I had been concerned about getting stuck in heavy London rush hour traffic. It turned out not to be a big issue, because adding to the 3 hour plane delay, it took us 45 minutes at the Hertz rental counter to get the car. By the time we left Heathrow, it was closer to lunch time than rush hour.
Driving on the left side of the road and having a steering wheel on the right side of the car, shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It probably wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t had such a cool car that had such lovely sloping lines. Neither Carol nor I could see the edges of the car from our seats to determine where we were in the lanes or when parking. It wasn’t a big deal on the wide motorways; but on narrower roads and in parking lots it was a real challenge.
To get out of the Heathrow terminal and get on to the motorway, we had to go through several roundabouts. I have always heard people complain about the English roundabouts. I felt pretty confident that a driver with my many years of experience would have no problems with them. It didn’t take long for me to lose all confidence in my driving abilities. There were so many roundabouts! Carol would alert me that I was getting too close to the left side of the road. From my seat on the right side of the car, it just didn’t look that close. But I was wrong – again. On one of the roundabouts my left front wheel rubbed against a low curb. It made a horrible grinding noise on the really cool beautiful new Mercedes wheel. I was not a happy driver. From then on I worried about doing more damage to the car. I didn’t feel confident that I could keep from doing more damage and I was very stressed out. Rightfully so, since we had more driving misfortunes to come. I felt like a rookie driver in this foreign driving environment. Thank goodness England is a small country and the distances aren’t that far.
York, England –
Other than the frequent notifications from Carol that I was too close to the left, the drive to York wasn’t too bad. Most of it was on Motorways (M roads) or multi-lane A roads. I learned later that those are the roads to stay on if possible. Plus, I had purchased a British Isles chip for my portable Garmin GPS to aid in getting around. Thank goodness I did or I might still be trying to find my way home from England. I had been warned to make sure we had a GPS with us well before booking a car.
Much of the time, there was no way to tell where I was or on which road I was driving. The signage left a lot to be desired, at least on the smaller roads. Although I cringed every time a roundabout approached, the GPS navigated us to the right road every time. Thank goodness, since I could not believe how many roundabouts a road could have. In some areas there could be one every two hundred yards for a stretch. Truly unbelievable!
On the motorways the Mercedes was a dream. I couldn’t believe how nice it drove. Very powerful and smooth. Plus it was a diesel, so the mileage was better. It really was a very nice car; but just not for a rookie English driver. On the way to York, I got very concerned when the car appeared to stall at stop signs and traffic signals. I couldn’t believe that I had gotten a lemon! It was challenge enough to drive in this strange environment, much less have to worry about keeping the idle up to keep the car from stalling. Then I remembered about a conversation I had with a neighbor of mine that rented a similar car in Germany last year. He had told me how frustrated he was with his Mercedes stalling. It turned out that it wasn’t stalling at all. It was an economy feature that turns the engine off when you are stopped and turns it back on when you push the accelerator. Very disconcerting to someone who isn’t aware of it! Carol remembered every time we got back into the car to push the button to disable the economy feature, since it came on automatically.
I had originally been anxious to get to York so we could tour; but since we were running so late, I was more concerned about getting to our hotel with enough time to get ready to meet some friends for dinner. We had been communicating online with Paul and Gail from Leeds, England on our Cruise Critic roll call forum. Since Leeds was only about 45 minutes from York, they wanted to meet us before the cruise by having dinner at a York restaurant. We had Skyped with them a couple of times before the trip and really looked forward to meeting them in person.
We finally got to our hotel at around 4:00 PM. Needless to say, I was very happy to get out of my very cool rental car. We had booked a B&B called The Groves, www.thegroveshotelyork.co.uk. Like all the lodgings we booked for England, it was rated highly in TripAdvisor. It was located on a residential type street, with large houses and B&B’s. A very nice environment and it was supposed to be a short walk to the center of town.
I was happy to see that there was room in the parking lot for us, and there was a place that I could park my car without too much hassle. We checked in and found our first floor room. I had booked the first floor in every place that didn’t have an elevator. I didn’t want Carol to have to climb a bunch of steps, and I surely didn’t want to have to carry our luggage up too many steps. At this first hotel, we needed to get out all of the luggage so Carol could do some rearranging because of the flight restrictions. I had a difficult time getting the first bag out of the trunk; but after a lot of pushing and pulling it was free. We could barely find enough space in the room to put the luggage much less open it. It was a very small room, and Carol found it impossible to do the rearranging since she could only open one piece at a time. With all the luggage in the room, I didn’t even bother to take a photo of it, since it looked so crowded and I really didn’t want to remember the room. The rest of the place did look quite nice. The public rooms were nicely appointed and it felt like an English B&B.
Since Carol didn’t want me in her way while she was trying to do her “luggage thing”, I decided to see how far the walk was into town. The weather wasn’t great. It was cloudy and cool. It looked like the rain could start at any minute. The main tourist attraction in York is the York Minster Cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. I hoped to be able to check it out. It was only about a 10 minute walk from the B&B to the main gate to the city. A very solid structure indeed.
Walking through the medieval gate, I entered a quaint city street. I was already glad we had decided to visit there. Further down the street York Minster came into view. As advertised, it was a very large cathedral. You can see how small the people appear at the bottom of the photo.
I walked further down the street to get a side view. I was impressed and looking forward to seeing the interior the following day. A light rain started, so I put up the umbrella and headed back to get ready for a fun evening with our new friends.
Paul and Gail arrived as planned and met us in the lobby. We could tell immediately that we were going to enjoy their company. Just a truly lovely couple. They were taking us to a restaurant called Bettys Tea Room, www.bettys.co.uk. Bettys is spelled without an apostrophe. It has been spelled that way for years. It is quite a well-known place. In fact two local friends back in Florida had told us to be sure to go to Bettys if we were in a town near one of their tea rooms. We were looking forward to finding out what all the fuss was about.
Since the rain had let up, we decided to walk to town. Before long we arrived at Bettys front door. It looked like a lovely place.
It looked even better inside.
I don’t remember what we had for dinner; but I won’t forget dessert. Months before our visit, Paul and Gail had told us about a treat called the Fat Rascal. It is a type of fruit scone that is a Bettys original. We ordered Fat Rascals and another treat they are known for, their macaroons. The macaroons were good, but the Fat Rascal that was buttered and heated was the star. A really delicious dessert! Paul and Gail chose a great place.
We walked back through the lovely Stonegate area of downtown. I wish that I had brought my camera, so I could have taken low light photos of the area. I would have to wait till the next morning.
When we got back to the B&B, we were exhausted. We hadn’t slept much on the flight over, so we were really ready for bed. Unfortunately, that was when we found out for the first time that Brits really like very firm beds. Unlike Floridians, who really like their Tempurpedic mattresses, which are very supportive, but also soft. We made the best of it; but our backs were not happy in the morning.
Since I didn’t sleep that restfully and due to the jet lag, I was awake very early. Rather than hanging in the room and waking up Carol, I decided to walk into town and take some photos. I was standing in front of York Minster at 5:30 AM. I was pretty much all alone. Everyone else in town had more sense than to be out that early.
I then walked through the quaint narrow streets, referred to as the Snickelways, over to the Shambles. I liked the name Snickelways, since it is a cute name for the type of streets with the interesting architecture. The Shambles is York’s old medieval shopping street that dates back to the 14th century. I knew that we wouldn’t have time to visit it later in the day, so I took lots of photos of it for Carol. I was also told that it is normally packed solid with people, but not so early in the morning!
Walking down the Shambles really felt like I was visiting old England; which I guess I was. It must be an experience trying to navigate during the day with thousands of people trying to share the narrow streets.
While continuing my walk I passed by Bettys. If it had been opened, I would have been tempted to get another Fat Rascal.
I then walked past the interesting stores in the Stonegate area where we had passed the previous night.
One store called the Inspiration Foundation, is where the haunted house tours begin. It had some strange merchandise.
To get back to our B&B, I had to pass by another section of York Minster. I read the sign on a 27 foot column on the grounds and found out that it was one of the 16 columns that stood in the great hall of the fortress of Rome’s Sixth Legion when they had been in this area. It is believed that this was where Constantine was declared emperor in 306 AD. The column was discovered in 1969 and erected on this site in 1971 to mark the 1900th anniversary of the founding of the city by the Romans in 71 AD. There was also an old statue of Constantine beside the cathedral.
The side view of York Minster was more impressive than the front view, since it showed how much depth the cathedral has.
I was also impressed with the carvings, statues and gargoyles placed all over the cathedral. It is a good thing we came to York first; or I might not have been so impressed with it compared to some of the cathedrals we would see later in the trip.
When I returned to the B&B I found out that English showers are smaller than what we are used to. Much smaller! This was the smallest of the trip, but most of them were a challenge to be able to maneuver in. By the end of the English land tour, I knew it was bad when I was looking forward to the “large” cruise ship showers.
We went down to the dining room to experience our first Full English Breakfast of the trip. Fresh fruit, yogurt and cereal were set out on a table. The fruit was very good. When the breakfast came, it had eggs, potatoes, bacon (more like Canadian bacon than the strips we are familiar with), beans, mushrooms and tomatoes. Everything tasted fine; but as the trip progressed, I had to keep cutting down on what items I had for breakfast. My favorite item was the porridge or oatmeal.
After breakfast, we checked out; since we knew that after visiting York Minster, we would need to hit the road. The staff at The Groves was very pleasant and helpful. I just wished that the room had been bigger and the bed softer; but the B&B itself was quite nice.
Once again I faced the challenge of stuffing the suitcases in the trunk and back seat. What a pain it was! I am still surprised that I was able to squeeze the two large bags into the trunk. I wish I had taken a pic of what they looked like in there to remind me never to rent a two door car with a small trunk again; even if it was a cool one. We left the car in the parking lot while we walked into town. I wasn’t about to try to find a parking space in York; plus it wasn’t a long walk.
Once we got to the gate, we knew that York Minster was close. I had originally planned on walking the medieval wall around York from the main gate; but we just didn’t have time. It is supposed to be a most pleasant walk with great views of the city, so I will definitely do it if we ever return to York.
Upon entering York Minster, we were pleased to see a lovely interior, although much plainer than some of the other churches we would see later in the trip.
There were lots of beautiful stained glass windows throughout the church including the round Rose Window.
The 50 foot tall Great West Window is also referred to as the Heart of Yorkshire Window. It was inserted in the 1330’s. It is rather obvious how it got its name.
The 76 foot tall Great East Window, from the 15th century, is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. This is the best photo I got of it. When I went closer, I was distracted by the Orb that contains an interactive gallery showing the craftsmanship of the window. Talk about something being out of place.
My favorite part of the church was the Choir area and King Screen. It contained fifteen statues of Kings of England from William the Conqueror to Henry VI.
The octagonal Chapter House was also quite a nice area.
It took a long time to look through the cathedral, since it was so large and there was so much beautiful statuary.
After seeing everything we could, we left and headed back to the car for our next exciting drive to the Lake District. Little did we know it at that time, but it was going to be a very stressful day.
The Lake District – Bowness-on-Windermere
The Lake District is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas of England. We had chosen to spend a couple of nights in the town of Bowness-on-Windermere based on recommendations from others. The drive there was only 94 miles compared to the previous drive from Heathrow to York of 216. Google maps had said the drive would take 2.5 hours, which seemed a bit much for just 94 miles. I hoped to be able to do better than that so we would get there a bit earlier. I should have known better.
I had set up all the locations we would be traveling to on the GPS before we left Florida. I didn’t want to hassle with having to do it while on vacation. For the most part the roads were pretty good early on; but I did miss one turn and had to back track. Carol frequently reminded me to watch out when I got too close to the left hand side. With some of the narrow roads, there wasn’t a lot of room on either side of the car. I particularly fretted when we would go through a small town where the corners of buildings almost met the streets. I was not enjoying driving on the smaller roads.
The closer we got to Bowness-on-Windermere, the narrower the roads became, but fortunately there wasn’t a lot of traffic. Then we came to a curvy section of very narrow road that had no shoulder and no center line. Looking ahead, I saw a very large truck was barreling down the road coming toward me. He was not slowing down or trying to get closer to his edge of the road. I had slowed down and tried to move over as much as I could to avoid hitting the truck. Carol warned me that we were too close and she was right. Both the front and the back wheels dropped off the edge of the asphalt.
After the truck passed without hitting me, I tried to move the car back onto the road. I hadn’t realized how much the asphalt dropped off. The car just moved forward along the outside of the road. So I tried to go backward to no avail. Carol told me to not try to get back on the road, since we were very close to a much deeper drop off that didn’t look so threatening from my side of the car. The truck driver had stopped to make sure we were all right and to apologize. Nice of him to do; but at that time I was just glad we were okay and we didn't yet realize we were stuck.
Since I was driving on the right side of the car, I could get out of the car to evaluate the situation. It was not good. The drop off was a good 9 inches, so I wasn’t going to be able to get back on the pavement without help. More concerning was that another foot over and it dropped down another 20 feet into a field. The photos don’t show this very well but it was quite a drop. We were concerned, since Carol couldn’t easily climb over the center console to get out of the car. I could just see the car tumbling down with her in it. The only way I could envision being pulled out was with a helicopter. I was getting stressed to say the least.
Then a very nice fellow named Keith stopped and asked if he could help us. Since I now knew that we needed help to get out of this situation, we were very grateful that he offered to call the assistance number on the Hertz paperwork. I didn’t have the slightest idea of how to even call anyone in England from my phone. Once he got the number and told the person where we were located, I talked to the agent and he said they would get some help out soon and he took my cell phone number. We repeatedly thanked Keith for his assistance. I don’t know how we could have communicated where we were located to the Hertz agent. It turned out we were near Winster and only a few miles away from our B&B in Bowness. Keith also told us we were lucky, because they normally don’t get a cell signal in the area we were in.
I stepped off the width of the road to find out how wide it was at that point. It was around 15 feet. Since my car was 7.5 feet wide and the truck was much wider than me, I don’t know how I could have avoided getting hit without the truck going off the road on their side. I got back in the car and waited for assistance to arrive.
We were most impressed by how many people stopped to ask if we were okay and if they could help. One lady said that she had passed by us three times and was worried, so she went home and got her husband to come back with her to check on us. Very heartwarming indeed. We found a greater respect and appreciation for the Brit’s that day. At last a van from the road assistance came by after about 45 minutes. He evaluated the situation and told us that we would need more help than he could provide. Since he wasn’t able to get a cell signal, he told us he would have to drive to Bowness-on-Windermere to get a signal where he could call his office.
While we were waiting our guardian angel Keith came back by to check on us. He was surprised we were still there. He told us that we should have come in on a better road a little further north of the one we were on. I cursed the GPS under my breath although it was my fault for not looking on a real map beforehand to see what route we should go on. Keith told me how to get to the better road for my return trip, so that I could avoid the road we were on now. While we were waiting, I asked him if he could recommend a restaurant in Bowness for the night. He said that his wife, Avilene, ran one in town. We told him we would go there that night. He said to wait till the next night, since she would be working then. Once again we were grateful for his assistance and thanked him repeatedly.
Time kept passing and no tow truck arrived. Finally the roadside assistance agent called me back to tell me that a large tow truck had to be sent to us and that it should be there within the hour. We had gone off the road at 2:00 PM and it was around 3:30 PM when he called. An hour later we were still waiting when the agent called me again to say that the tow truck was stuck in traffic and for us to be patient. Around 5:00 PM, the tow truck arrived. He evaluated the situation, put a couple of angled pieces of wood under both tires, attached a long tow cable and started the rescue process. It was more challenging than he first thought, so he needed to get some more wood along the edge. In short order we were back on the road. We had been there for 3 hours; but were grateful that there was no major damage and we could drive the car. I followed closely behind the tow truck to make sure that no one got close to me on that narrow road. It actually turned out to be wider than some of the roads I would mistakenly get onto later during the trip.
We quickly found our B&B for the next two nights, the Dene House, www.denehouse-guesthouse.co.uk. It looked quite nice from the outside. Carol was in desperate need of a restroom after our long wait and rushed inside. We were welcomed by our hosts Ian and Jenny. They were very understanding and sympathetic of our situation. They got us something to drink and some cookies and cake to eat since we had missed lunch. We already liked the Dene House. This was going to be an enjoyable stay.
When we entered our room, we were really happy. This room was very large and bright. Just the opposite of our previous night’s lodging.
Plus the bathroom was much larger too. Although the shower was still a small one.
I walked around the outside of the house to get a lay of the land and found an absolutely gorgeous garden area beside the house with various colors of Rhododendrons. What a beautiful garden. I was really liking the Dene House. After the day we had, I needed this.
After struggling to get the luggage out of the trunk again, Carol said she would arrange the luggage where we could leave the two large suitcases in the trunk until we returned the car the next week. Now that she had the space to work in, that sounded like a great idea. I decided to walk into town to check out restaurants and see Lake Windermere. Ian had recommended several restaurants and told us the directions to them as well as to the lake. I only made one wrong turn. It took me about a half mile out of the way; but did allow me to see a lot more of the town. The lake area was very nice with lots of boats and even more swans. It is obviously a beautiful tourist area.
I walked up to the main town and saw several of the restaurants Ian had recommended along the quaint streets. I was so glad to be there and even happier to not be driving anywhere.
I returned to the Dene House to get Carol. Since it was a very short walk into town, if you go the right way, we were able to look around at our dining options for the night. We already knew we were going to the restaurant the next night that Keith’s wife ran. For our first night we decided on a restaurant/pub named the Spinnery Restaurant, www.spinneryrestaurant.co.uk. My first order of business was to get a local ale. I ended up picking one called Collie Wobbles. It was very good, as was the beef and ale pie I had for dinner. Carol had the fish and chips. Real English food! We enjoyed our conversation with the waitress/bartender before dinner. She was quite a character.
We went to bed early that night, since we had a full day tour planned for the next day. The bed was firm, but much more comfortable than the previous night. The room was really cozy and there just seemed to be a lot of little extras in the room that really made it a special B&B. Our hosts had taken great pride in their establishment and it showed.
In the morning we were very pleased with the breakfast. In addition to some yummy fruit, they also had homemade marmalade and local yogurt. The serving staff was very friendly and we got to enjoy Ian’s company again. The staff takes pride in their product and it shows.
I had decided many months earlier that we would take a tour of the Lake District, since we could see so much more than if I were driving. Now that was a great decision! Thank goodness, since there was no way I was driving around there if I could avoid it.
The tour we booked was through a company called Mountain Goat Tours, www.mountain-goat.co.uk. We were taking their Ten Lakes Spectacular tour. It appeared to be one that would give us a good general introduction to the area. They had many other tours that would have been nice to take if we had been spending more time there. Our driver/tour guide for the day, Tony, picked us up in his van at the Dene House. Unfortunately the weather was not too good. It was very cloudy and we expected rain. I hated that, since the sun and a blue sky would really make photos of this gorgeous area look better. But it wasn’t to be.
We would be seeing ten different lakes on the tour, along with some small towns. The drive through the countryside was quite enjoyable, since everywhere we looked were mountains, lakes or beautiful vegetation.
Poet William Wordsworth lived in the Lake District in the town of Grasmere for 14 years. He described it as “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found". We stopped there for a short restroom break and sightseeing. While Carol strolled through the garden center where we stopped, I walked over to the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden. The area was supposed to have been the inspiration for his famous poem Daffodils. Unfortunately there were no daffodils in bloom for our visit.
The other attraction in the town was Sarah Nelson’s Original Celebrated Grasmere Gingerbread. Since Tony had also proclaimed the virtues of the gingerbread, I had to get some. It was like no gingerbread I had ever eaten; but it was good. It was more like a Heath Bar.
We continued our drive to the northern part of the Lake District toward the town of Keswick, where we would go on a boat ride and stop for lunch. The mountains got larger and the whole area was just gorgeous. I understood why this was such a popular tourist spot. I could easily enjoy a vacation just staying there.
The sightseeing boat we boarded was actually just a water taxi that took people from one side of the lake to the other. It had a covered and open section. It was a good thing, since it was a relatively cool day and we had intermittent rain. Since it wasn’t raining at first, I sat in the open section to get photos. With it being a dull day, the photos look dull also. I am sure that the lake cruise would be much more enjoyable on a sunny day. I gave up and moved to the inside section. A good thing I did, since the heavy rain started soon after. It really spoiled what could have been a nice little cruise.
It was still raining after we got off the boat and headed to Keswick for lunch. When we parked the van, we pulled out our umbrellas and went to the closest restaurant which was Oddfellows. I got another local ale and we both got fish and chips with mushy peas. The meal was just OK, although the ale was quite good. One thing that really intrigued me was that when I ordered a draft beer, they actually pulled the handle all the way down a couple times to pump it into the glass. I guess I have led a sheltered life, since the only way I have seen draft beer served was with compressed air. I found later during the trip that every pub we went to used the same method.
After lunch we spent a little time walking around Keswick. It was a nice town. I wish we had a little more exploring time, since there was a lot to see there.
The tour continued with views of other lakes and a stop at a scenic overlook of Lake Derentwater. I was surprised that the van could even get up the very narrow curvy road. Sure glad there weren’t any other vehicles on it; but that wasn’t my problem, thank goodness. I am sure the view was quite lovely; but it just isn’t the same while holding an umbrella over a camera to take photos.
We left the overlook and drove a little bit down the mountain to the Ashness Bridge. It is a very famous spot as it is one of the most scenic places in the Lake District. Tony told us that pictures of the bridge are used on many boxes of chocolates. I am not familiar with it; but it was a classic bridge scene.
After we got back into the van and drove further down the lake, the clouds did open up a bit and the sun was on the lake for a couple brief minutes. We could get passing views through the trees of what it normally looks like. A lovely place indeed! We continued through the mountains to other lakes with beautiful scenery all around.
Our next destination was to a slate plant for a restroom break and souvenir shopping. They also offered a slate mine tour that was available had we been there longer. From the slate plant, the view down through the valley was quite nice. The whole area was quite different from the views we had been seeing. Tony pointed out that there were many different types of terrain over the area we would cover during the tour. This was the first one that was dramatically different from the others we had seen.
Over the rest of the tour, we passed by other lakes and different terrains including one with a small waterfall.
I was intrigued by all the stone fences. They were everywhere. The locals call them dry stone walls. Quite a different meaning from "drywall" in the U.S.
For a change of pace, we stopped at the Castlerigg Stone Circle. It was much smaller than Stonehenge that we would visit later on the trip; but it was a nice preview. The stones weren’t that tall; but it was still a 4,500 year old structure.
Our next stop was at a gorgeous valley overlook. I had no idea that England had such high mountains. I was impressed.
After passing by a couple of more lakes, we finally ended back at our hotel, eight hours after the tour started. Even with the less than desirable weather at times, we had a most enjoyable tour.
For dinner, we were going to walk over to the restaurant recommended by Keith, the Amore Restaurant, www.amorewindermere.co.uk. It was a modern Italian restaurant with a very nice menu and pleasant décor. For some reason, I didn’t take photos of what we had for dinner. Probably just because I was enjoying a nice relaxing dinner with my wife.
We had asked if Keith’s wife Avilene was in when we came into the restaurant; but she had not yet arrived. By the time we were almost finished eating, Keith and Avilene were both there. We were so glad to be able to see our hero again and meet his lovely wife. It had been a perfect way to finish up a great day.
In the morning, I stuffed the two large suitcases in the trunk for the last time since now that they were rearranged, we wouldn't need the big ones until we reached Southampton. We had another lovely breakfast and thanked Ian and Jenny for a wonderful stay at Dene House. We would visit there again in a minute.
I programmed my GPS to go the way that Keith had recommended to leave the Lake Country on our drive to Stratford-upon-Avon. We had a 191 mile drive and it was a much more enjoyable experience. The road to the motorway was great and most of the trip was on motorways.
Stratford upon Avon
We easily found our lodging for our visit to William Shakespeare’s town. We were staying in a hotel this time, at the Premiere Inn Stratford upon Avon Waterways, www.premierinn.com/en/hotel/STRAVO/stratford-upon-avon-waterways. I had chosen the hotel, because it was fairly new, air conditioned, had elevators and most importantly was close to the main tourist area. The B&Bs I had looked at would require me to have to drive to town and park; which I did not want to do. I also had not been worried about the lack of air conditioning in York and Windermere, since they normally get very cool at night; but Stratford could get warm and I didn’t want to risk it.
The Premiere Inn is a large chain that caters to business travelers. When we pulled in, we found that there was a large parking lot; but that the parking lot could be used by anyone, since there was a charge. I was pleasantly surprised that it was only £3 per day; which I was able to add to my room. The rooms were pretty austere; but had all the necessities. What mattered to us most was that it was clean, comfortable and a short walk to town. There was adequate room and the bed was king size. It also wasn’t overly firm.
The bathroom had a shower in the tub, so it was roomier than the prior stays.
Carol could not believe what the hotel used for a closet. But it did work out fine for a short stay.
Since we had a sunny day, I wanted to get to town to get some photos before any clouds could move in. It took less than 5 minutes to get to the tourist area.
The first thing I saw was the court jester statue from the play As You Like It. I am not a big Shakespeare fan; but I was already impressed with what I had seen.
One of the things I was interested in was which tour package to get to see the various Shakespeare sites. I walked over to the Shakespeare Center, which was right next to Shakespeare’s birthplace. The cost for just going to his birthplace was £14.95, while the price for the five sites was £22.50. Since each of the other four sites was more than £8 each, it was a no brainer to get the five site package. But I was concerned about how to get to Mary Arden’s House and Ann Hathaway’s Cottage which were several miles out of town. I had no desire to drive there. I talked to the driver of the Hop On Hop Off bus and found out that it would cost £12.50 for a two day ticket; which wasn’t bad. He also suggested that I get the Shakespeare package through them, which was £29 and included the bus fare. That effectively brought down the HOHO bus to just £6.50 each. Definitely the way to go, and I wouldn't have to do any driving.
Right next to the Shakespeare Center was Shakespeare’s Birthplace and the gift shop that we would visit the next day.
I walked deeper into town to get a preview of coming attractions and to look for a restaurant for the night. The hotel clerk had recommended a few restaurants for us. I looked at several menus on the restaurant windows and they all looked good. We would just decide when I came back with Carol later. I was enjoying walking through town and taking in the old English architecture. The Tudor styled half-timbered buildings were everywhere.
I got a kick out of a bookworm topiary. Seemed appropriate for a town devoted to Shakespeare.
I walked further down the street to get my first glimpse of the Avon River. We found out while on tour later that the word Avon means river. When the Romans asked the locals what the name of the river was, they were told Afon; which meant river in Welsh. So the Romans called it the River Avon. So, in effect, it is the River River. There is a large park area before you get to the river. A fountain with two swans is at the entrance to the park. It is the 800th Anniversary Fountain and is referred to as the Swan Fountain. It was dedicated by Queen Elizabeth in 1996 to celebrate the granting of the towns original charters in 1196.
The Avon was a beehive of activity with lots of tourists, swans and boat racing. There were also lots of touring boats cruising along it the next day.
The Royal Shakespeare Theater is at one end of the park. It was a very large modern structure. It was not what I was expecting to see. The next day I would see the Swan Theater, which is attached to the modern theater on the back side. It was more in line with my expectations.
I was really looking forward to the tour we would have the next day. Stratford looked like a great place for tourists. On my return to the hotel, I saw a very narrow boat going through a lock. There were quite a few of these boats along the river on the side of the hotel. I found out later that these were actually houseboats. Families live in them and can move along the river. They need to be very narrow, since the locks don’t accommodate larger vessels.
I was anxious to share the beauty of Stratford with Carol, so when I got back to the room, I was glad she was ready to explore. Like me, she was thrilled that the great tourist area was so close to our hotel; and excited to see this unique town. When we got down to the main restaurant area, we decided on which restaurant we wanted to try the first night. When we entered to get a table, we were told that they were full for the night. Since it was only around 6:00 PM, I was surprised and concerned that perhaps I should have made reservations earlier when I was walking around town. I decided to make one for the next day.
We then went to the restaurant that we had originally planned to go to the next night, Loxleys, www.loxleysrestaurant.co.uk.
As it turned out, the change in plans made the night very special. We had a very nice dinner and were seated next to a young couple. Close to the end of our dinner the young man got up and walked over to his date and got down on one knee. He was proposing to his girlfriend. It was very touching and sweet. Everyone around us was clapping when his girlfriend accepted the proposal. As usual, I had my camera with me and was able to capture some of the proposal in photos once I realized what was going on.
I was so glad that I could capture the moment for the couple. We exchanged email addresses so I could send him the photos after I returned home. It really made our evening in the restaurant special indeed. It was the topic of discussion on our walk back to the hotel.
The next morning, as usual while on vacation, I was up early. I enjoy walking around when the crowds aren’t in tourist areas to see the sites without people all around. I passed by lots of interesting buildings on my way to the Holy Trinity Church, where Shakespeare was buried.
Unfortunately, since it was Sunday morning, I was not able to enter the church to see his grave. Shakespeare paid the church to bury him inside rather than outside. It has probably worked out better for the church, since it allows them to control the crowds by charging to view it. The Shakespeare tickets we had purchased covered the cost to go into the church; but I would have to return later in the afternoon after church services. As it turned out, I didn’t come back.
I walked along the Avon to get back to the main tourist area. It was very peaceful and enjoyable walking path.
The path passed by the Swan Theater section of the Royal Shakespeare Theater. It had a much more traditional look.
After I got Carol and came back into town, we bought our tickets and boarded the Hop On Hop Off (HOHO) bus. With HOHO busses, you either get a pre-recorded audio guide or a live person. We lucked out and had a live guide for the first leg of the tour. Although it was a cool morning, I rode up top in the open section with the guide to get photos. Carol wisely stayed downstairs in the warmer section.
The tour passed by many areas I hadn’t yet seen. It was a fun place to just take in everything.
After touring around the city, we headed out to Anne Hathaway’s Cottage. This was the home where Anne Hathaway lived with her parents prior to being married to Shakespeare. When they married, she was 26 and Shakespeare was 18. It is said that it was a shotgun wedding with Anne having her first child six months after the wedding. One of the things I wanted to see when visiting England was a thatch roofed house. This was what I had been looking for. The exterior was so old English. There is a special round photo taking stand at the perfect place to capture the cottage. So I am sure that most people will have the below photo. It was a perfect angle to capture it all.
The garden was also quite nice with so many flowers in bloom.
I was interested in what the thatch material looked like close up. It looks like a great place for insects to build nests to me. It looks very pretty; but I sure wouldn’t want to pay for the upkeep on it.
The interior was more interesting than I expected. There were docents in period dress around the house telling stories and answering questions. The cottage definitely looked like it was lived in with kitchen utensils, bedding, furniture and decorations all around.
On the way to our next stop the bus passed by many rapeseed fields. Rapeseed is the third largest source for vegetable oil in the world. We had seen the flowing yellow fields the first time we were in England; as well as in several places on our drive this time. We hadn’t been able to get good photos of them; but since I was on top of the bus, I was finally able to get a better view of them.
Our next stop was at Mary Arden’s Farm. Mary was a farmer’s daughter before she married William Shakespeare’s father, John. The farm itself is quite interesting and there is a lot to see about how farm life was 500 years ago.
There are different interesting activities going on during the day at the farm including archery and falconry. We lucked out to arrive shortly before the falconry display started. I was so glad we got to see it. The falcon trainer was just wonderful. He was a true entertainer and kept us enthralled for the full 20 minute show. Rather than a falcon he used a beautiful white Barn Owl. Since the owl had a mind of its own, it was really funny when the trainer couldn’t get the owl to come to him and he kept coaxing him. He also got the audience involved.
After the show we went into the farmhouse, where once again there were docents in period dress. The displays were very well done and enjoyable. It was nice place to visit.
There were lovely gardens and flowers to see.
We departed the HOHO bus near the main tourist area so we could visit Shakespeare’s birthplace. Apparently everyone else had the same intent and it was crowded. There were lines or queue’s as they are called in England. Before entering the house, there were several areas with videos that needed to be passed through first. Doors opened when the presentations were completed to allow you to move to the next one. This way they were able to keep the crowds separated; as well as entertained while waiting. When we finally were able to go to the house, we entered on the back side. The backside was much prettier than the front and actually looked more like a front to me than a back.
Once again there were docents around the house to answer questions; but they were dressed in current clothing. There were several rooms to walk through both upstairs and downstairs; but to me the most interesting was the area used by Shakespeare’s father as his glove shop. They demonstrated how the gloves were fitted and made.
Although the birthplace is the most well-known house in Stratford, the visit to Mary Arden’s Farm or Anne Hathaway’s Cottage were more interesting to me.
When we left the birthplace, Carol was Shakespeared out and ready to go back to the hotel. I wanted to visit one more of the sites, the Nash House. It is strange that the Nash House is even on the tour, since it was just the house next door to Shakespeare’s final residence. You don’t need to visit the Nash House to see the empty lot where Shakespeare’s house used to be. However, it is promoted as a way to see how the wealthier people lived in Stratford hundreds of years ago. There is also a museum in the house that traces the history of Stratford.
I did enjoy walking around the large garden behind the house.
After leaving the Nash House, I walked back toward the Avon to check out the market that we had seen while on the HOHO bus. There were lots of vendors there.
I had finally had enough touring and went back to the hotel to get Carol so we could go to dinner. We had made reservations for a restaurant called Lambs, http://www.lambsrestaurant.co.uk. It was the one we wanted to go to the first night. I was glad I had made reservations, since once again it was a full house. I understood why since the food was very good. Carol ordered the rack of lamb. It seemed appropriate at a restaurant called Lambs. It was scrumptious!
We had thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Stratford-upon-Avon. It is a true tourist destination that should be experienced if in the area. We were looking forward to visiting another English town the next day.
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