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



One of the areas we had wanted to visit was the Cotswolds, which lie between Stratford and Bath. With Bath only being 75 miles from Stratford, we would have plenty of time to see the countryside and visit some of the quaint towns.  We planned on leaving early so we could take in as much as possible.  It was a very cloudy morning with a forecast of rain.  The rain started shortly after we got out of town.  The road I took through the Cotswolds was called the Fosse Way.  It was built over the original Roman road that was built there 2,000 years ago.  The main reason to take the road was that many of the towns I wanted to visit were either on or close to it.  During the planning phase for our trip, I had considered taking many side roads to visit some of the small towns.  Based on my new fear of driving, I decided it would be best to do only a few that were actually right on the road. 


Our first stop was at Moreton in Marsh.  After finally finding a parking lot, we exited the car with umbrellas extended.  This was no way to tour.  We had a light breakfast and walked a little to see if there was anything to see.  We quickly gave up and decided to stop at the next town that was convenient to the road.  Above are the only photos I took at Moreton in Marsh or in the Cotswolds.  The towns just didn’t look that appealing or quaint when being drenched by the rain.  I wish that the weather had been better and I had the courage to drive on the narrower roads to experience the real Cotswolds towns, but it just didn’t work out this time.  However, that was okay with us, we still had lots of wonderful places to visit.

On the way to Bath, Carol saw a sign directing us to Bath; but the GPS appeared to be showing a different way.  I went with the GPS, unfortunately.  The road I was on quickly turned into a road that did not appear to be a main road, so I pulled over to look at the paper map and Google Maps.  The GPS I have doesn’t allow me to move around the map to see where the route goes, so I was trusting my iPhone more.  Sure enough, I should have turned where Carol told me to.  Now I had to turn the car around.  Looking behind me, it appeared that I could just back up into an open area and turn around.  Wrong!  Not far behind me was a small low concrete structure that could not be seen in the mirrors or back window.  The sudden stop and crunching sound was not something I expected or needed.  What other misfortunes could strike us?  Well there would be more; but not that day.  I got out to look at the damage and was pleased that it was just a little scuff on the bumper; but since it was a brand new car, I could see another financial ding for me.  It also didn’t do much to help my confidence in my driving ability. The rest of the drive to Bath in my cool car was uneventful.  Thank goodness. 

We were staying at a B&B in Bath named the Ayrlington, www.ayrlington.com.  We had booked the Empire Room, which was on the first floor.  I chose this lodging due to the high ratings on TripAdvisor and its close proximity to the main tourist area.  The exterior certainly presented a stately image.  Like many of the buildings we had seen coming into town, the exterior was made of the honey colored Bath Stone.  It looked like a classy place.

When we entered the front hallway, we could look into the breakfast room and parlor.  The Ayrlington looked like a very nice place indeed.  The receptionist was quite nice and most helpful in telling us everything we needed to know; as well as how to get into town.



I had seen photos of the Empire Room on the Ayrlington’s website prior to booking it.  The real thing looked even better.  It was very roomy and the view out to the large back yard and garden was a real plus.  I really liked the canopy bed and fireplace.  It made the room feel very homey.


The bathroom was also of a reasonable size with a shower in the large tub.

I walked out into the back yard to get a closer look.  It was a very relaxing and peaceful environment.  The back side of the Ayrlington made it look like an even larger house.


I was anxious to see how far the walk into town was and to do some preliminary exploring.  This was not a problem, since as usual, Carol was setting up her nest and didn’t need me in her way.  The walk was quite pleasant passing by the large houses that shared the block with the Ayrlington. 

Within a few minutes, I was passing over the River Avon and could see the much photographed Pulteney Bridge and weir.  I was a good ways from it; but since it is the photo that is always shown when one Googles Bath, it was easily recognizable.  It was nice to see that most buildings in the city appeared to be made of the Bath Stone.  It made the city special.  I would find out how special later in the day.

I found a Bath HOHO bus and took a brochure.  The driver told me that the tickets were good for two days and two different routes; so I bought them.  The two days would work out perfectly based on our schedule. 

I walked back to our B&B to get Carol.  She was also anxious to see the beautiful town of Bath.  After a quick lunch in town, we entered the HOHO for our city tour.  The first building that draws your attention is the massive Bath Abbey. 


It didn’t take long to see that Bath didn’t look anything like the quaint Tudor town of Stratford.  It was most enjoyable to see the interesting architecture and statuary.


On one street the guide told us that what we were seeing was the upper class homes.  I was impressed with all of the chimneys.


We also passed by the Jane Austen Center.  She lived in Bath for several years, so a center was set up in her honor.  Our guide told us that Jane Austen didn’t like Bath; but that didn’t stop the city from celebrating her life.

We passed through the Circus, a large group of townhomes built in a circle made of three sections.  They were constructed in the 1700’s; but looked to be well maintained.


We then passed by Victoria Park where we could get a view of the very large Royal Crescent.  This was also built in the 1700’s and was 30 terraced houses built in a large crescent shape.  It is considered one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in England.  Some of the houses have been converted into a hotel and a museum.  I looked forward to coming back the next day to get a closer view of the Royal Crescent.

Our tour guide told us several interesting things about the Bath Stone.  First off, it is now very expensive to buy.  The cost is around £2,000 or $3,000 per cubic square yard.   The other problem with Bath Stone is that it is very expensive to clean.  Because it is a form of limestone, it can’t be pressure washed.  That would push the dirt into the stone and make it even harder to clean.  They have to put chemicals on the outside of the stone and physically rub or brush the dirt off.  There are also other methods that can be used; but the manual method is the safest to insure that the surface isn’t damaged. All methods are very expensive.  The tour guide said it could cost £20,000 or $30,000 to clean a large home.  I was liking my South Florida stucco house more and more as she discussed this.

We continued on the tour and saw more interesting buildings. We passed the Roman Bath house that we planned on visiting after we finished the complete HOHO circuit.



After the tour, we walked toward the bath house; but had to stop at Bath Abbey first.  The imposing structure captured our attention.  It was quite a beautiful building.

The interior is just as striking.  The most notable feature is the fan vaulting of the ceiling.  I had never seen anything like it.  The colored areas set in the ceiling were the Royal Coat of Arms.


There were beautiful stained glass windows and interesting statues throughout the Abbey.


Bath Abbey had been a very pleasant surprise.  I had researched most of the other churches we were going to visit in our planning process; but not in Bath.  I had focused my research on other types of sites in Bath.  One of those was the Roman Baths that the city was named for.

After we purchased our tickets, we were given an audio guide that is put up to your ear, like a telephone.  When we came up to a numbered sign, we entered the number for the narrative on it.  It was a nice method, since we only had to listen to the things we were interested in learning more about.

The main bath area that is normally shown in photos was quite large.  The green water did not look that appealing to me; but probably was back in the first century when the Romans first constructed buildings for the baths at the hot springs.

There were nine statues of the Roman Emperors and Governors of Roman Britain around the upper deck area. 

From the baths, there was a great view of the Bath Abbey.

We then continued to walk around the building, looking at the artifacts and representations of what the building looked like.  I was surprised to find that there were so many different baths within the structure.

When we were going to descend to a lower level, Carol took the elevator while I took the stairs.  When I got to the bottom of the stairs, Carol hadn’t arrived.  I waited a bit and then walked back up and saw that Carol was still in the glass enclosed elevator, stuck between floors.  I was glad it was glass and I could see her.  She provided me with a scared look for a good photo memory. 

I looked around for a docent; but there were none around.  I was concerned about the elevator getting very uncomfortable for Carol, so I walked out to other areas looking for help.  There was none around.  Meanwhile, Carol discovered the alarm and set it off.    When I came back to the elevator there was a staff member there; but she didn’t know what to do, so she called for help on her phone.  Finally help arrived and it was determined that the woman in the wheel chair had moved too close to the exit door, which stopped the elevator.  Once she moved back from the door, it quickly descended.  We will remember that for future reference.

We continued to walk along the designated path.  The rooms were very dark and it was difficult to get decent photos.  I couldn’t get over how many different baths there were.  I especially liked a round one that sparkled from the coins thrown in it.



After we left the baths we passed by the famous Pump Room.  Since it was an elegant restaurant, we didn’t bother going inside.

After looking around a bit more, we decided it would make more sense to have an early dinner than to walk back to our room and return a little later.  One of the restaurants I had seen advertised in all of the various tourist brochures was called Sally Lunn’s, www.sallylunns.com.  It is located in what is claimed to be the oldest house in Bath; which was built in 1482.  It belonged to a woman named Sally Lunn.  The restaurant had been in business for 30 years.  Their claim to fame is the World Famous Sally Lunn Bun.  I was surprised that I had not heard of it, since it was supposed to be world famous.

The restaurant interior certainly looked like an old building.  I had to order one of the famous buns; but didn’t want to spoil my dinner.  So I got what was a smaller piece of bun with some rarebit on it.  It didn’t seem like anything special to me; but it was a great marketing ploy.  The rest of the meal was OK, but not memorable.

After dinner we returned to the Ayrlington.  We heard some activity to the side of the house, so we investigated.  There were a bunch of people playing lawn bowling on the field adjacent to the Ayrlington.  It was played more like Bocce Ball.  I had never seen lawn bowling before, although I had played games similar to it on my iPad.  We were really intrigued by it.  Everyone seemed to really be enjoying themselves; as were we. 


After watching for a while, we went back to our room and relaxed from our busy day’s activities.  We had been hearing the bells from the Bath Abbey playing.  It was a nice sound; but we couldn’t understand what was happening.  They would start up, play for a while and then stop.  Then they would start again.  This went on for quite some time into the evening.  I asked one of the Ayrlington staff what the occasion was.  He said that they were training people to play the bells.  With that type of an instrument, I guess it is difficult to train in private.

After an enjoyable day of touring, we were looking forward to seeing more of beautiful Bath the next day.  We had no idea what a stressful day it would be.

The next morning I was up early to walk around before the crowds came.  Bath did have lots of tourists around the previous day.  I was taking a different route into the tourist area, since I wanted to check out a restaurant we were interested in for dinner.  The route would take me over the Pulteney Bridge.  Since I hadn’t seen the River Avon, I didn’t know where the bridge was.  I asked someone I saw in the street where the bridge was.  He told me “You are on it”.  It sure didn’t look like a bridge.  The Pulteney Bridge is one of only four bridges with shops along both sides of its full span.  The others are the Rialto Bridge in Venice, Ponte Vecchio in Florence and one I hadn’t heard of in Germany.  Below are photos of it I took later in the day.

After I returned to the Ayrlington, we had a very nice breakfast.  I was very happy with my choice of lodgings for Bath.  Everything was going great.  Since we had done the main HOHO bus route the previous day, we planned on going on the other route that took us outside the city later in the morning.  We stopped to get photos of the Pulteney Bridge area.  I took so many photos of the bridge during our two day stay that even I felt that I had overdone it. 


We then walked over to a park called the Parade Grounds.  It is a private park; but it only cost about £1 to enter.  It is at river level and required a lot of steps to go down, so I went by myself.  My main interest in going into the park was to get a different angle for photos of the bridge.  It turned out that the angle from above was better; but I still enjoyed the park.  The flowers and statues in the park were a nice change from all the Bath Stone buildings.



When I returned to street level with Carol, I saw the HOHO bus we planned to take at the curb.  We started to walk quickly toward it.  I told Carol that I would run over to the bus so he wouldn’t leave before we got there.  As I got to the bus I told the driver my wife was coming.  The driver pointed over my shoulder and said “Is that your wife”.  I turned around and saw her laying in the street with a woman standing over her.  I ran back to see what had happened.  She was very upset and bleeding from above her eye.  She had stepped off the curb and tripped.  When she landed, she hit the side of her head on the road and her glasses cut her above the eye.  The woman who was helping her had given her some towels to soak up the blood.  Like with any head wound, they bleed a lot.  The woman assisted me in getting Carol up and over to a bench to sit on.  She didn’t want Carol laying in the street where a vehicle could hit her.  I am glad she was there to help us think clearly.  As luck would have it, a couple of city workers were quickly at the scene.  One of them, Sam had previously received some paramedic training, so he was able to patch her up right there on the spot.  The fact that Carol thought he was good looking seemed to put her in a more relaxed mood.  At least she was smiling. 

He told us that we might need to get a stitch for the cut, so we needed to watch it.  While we were sitting on the bench, the lady who had helped Carol, named Cathy came over with a gift.  We noticed that she was working at a Bath Aqua Glass, www.bathaquaglass.com, stand next to where we were sitting.  She gave her a very cute little blue glass penguin and told her that she wanted her to have a good memory of Bath and not just remember the accident.  How sweet was that?  Once again we were so impressed with how nice British people were and how concerned they were for others. 


When we got back to the B&B, we asked them about a walk-in emergency clinic in case we needed one.  They called around and found out that the one that had been there closed and the only option was the hospital ER.  We decided to wait to see if the bleeding started again or if there were any other issues before going to the hospital.  Carol wanted to rest, so I went back to town to keep out of her hair so she could relax. 

I had read about a restaurant called Sotto Sotto, www.sottosotto.co.uk, in the travel brochure.  When I checked it out on TripAdvisor, it was the highest rated restaurant in Bath.  People had written that they needed to make reservations months in advance.  Earlier in the day, I had written an email to the restaurant to see if by chance there was seating available for dinner.  While checking my email when I took Carol back, I had a reply saying that someone had just cancelled and asked if we wanted the reservation.  We had lucked out.  Since I was walking that way anyway, I stopped in to see what it was like and take some photos before it got crowded.  Now this was a very unique restaurant.  The rooms were cavernous vaulted cellars. 


I met the owner, Antonio, and confirmed our reservation.  He seemed like a very nice guy and wanted to show me around. I was so lucky to be able to make a reservation with such short notice.  I couldn’t wait to return for dinner, if Carol was feeling well enough.  I was a bit concerned because she would have to go down a lot of stairs to get to the restaurant.  The name Sotto Sotto means Under Under.  It was quite obvious where the name came from.

I then walked over to where the HOHO bus was waiting to take the 2nd route, the Skyline Tour.  The main highlight was supposed to be to get really great views from the hill above the town.  Most of the views were totally obstructed by buildings or trees, so it was pretty much a waste of time.  I didn’t take a single photo.

I decided to redo the City Tour so I could stop off at the Royal Crescent.  Now that was a much better choice.  The Royal Crescent looked much better up close than through the previous view I had through the trees.  It was a very large crescent.  I couldn’t even get the full building in the photo with the lens I had with me.

After the tour I went back to our room to see how Carol was doing.  She was feeling OK, but the internal blood was moving around her eye.  She was going to have a black eye.  Not something she wanted right before going on a cruise.  It would continue to get worse; but did start clearing up during the cruise and almost went totally away before we got back to Florida.

She felt good enough to go to Sotto Sotto.  So in the evening we walked on over.  She had no issue with the stairs and was thrilled when she saw the unique interior.  This was a special restaurant and we were sure the food would be outstanding.  Antonio was a wonderful host. He told us all about the restaurant along with stories about its history, including one about Admiral Nelson who lived in the same block.  Apparently Admiral Nelson had a rendezvous in this type vault in one of the other houses down the street.  The vaults would certainly provide a lot of privacy.  As long as there wasn’t a restaurant in it.

We had an absolutely wonderful dinner.  We had really lucked out to be able to experience Sotto Sotto.  After dinner we went back to pack for our last day with the rental car.  We planned to drive back to Heathrow to turn in the car and meet up with our cruising buddies Jim and Kathleen, who had just flown in from Seattle.  I was so looking forward to not driving for the rest of our vacation.  I wasn’t going to miss our cool car.

The next morning we had another enjoyable breakfast before we left.  I had been very concerned about getting out of our parking spot, since spaces were limited and cars were parked behind us at the edge of the lot.  Fortunately Carol was able to stand outside the car and tell me how far I could back up.  There was enough room and we were quickly on our way. 

Rather than going directly back to Heathrow, which was only 100 miles away on a motorway, we wanted to go to the town of Wells.  It wasn’t far out of the way and I really wanted to see the very beautiful Wells Cathedral.  We originally also wanted to go to the Cheddar Gorge; but the roads going there did not look to be Mercedes friendly enough for me.  I tried to program the GPS with an intermediate location to keep me only on the good roads.  It didn’t work. 

Somehow the GPS put me on a road that didn’t appear to be going to Wells and it was not a great road like I thought I would be going on.  I pulled up Google Maps on my iPhone and found a road that would get me back to a main road.  A little ways down that road it turned into a true one lane road.  I prayed that another car would not be coming the other way.  There was no way I could back up all the way to the road where I turned off.  Fortunately all went well and I got back to the main drag. 


As we drove into Wells, I was so glad that we had come.  One of the reasons we wanted to visit Wells was to see the cathedral that was used in the TV movie version of the Pillars of the Earth. The Salisbury Cathedral we would see a few days later was also used in the movie. 

I had not realized how close Wells was to Bath, until one day well before the trip.  We were talking with a woman from Wells that was visiting our church in Boynton Beach and sitting behind us.  We told her we would be visiting England in a few months.  She told us we had to visit her town of Wells.  So I researched it and added it to our itinerary.  Thank goodness I did!

The cathedral from a distance looked very nice and the town itself looked very promising.  After we parked and walked toward the cathedral, we came to a smaller church, St. Cuthbert.  It was a lovely structure and whet our appetite for the cathedral.

When we got to the main tourist area, there was a market going on.  We headed toward the large medieval wall and gate in the back of the square.


We walked through the gate wall and could see the exterior of the Wells Cathedral. Wow! 


It has the largest gallery of medieval sculptures in the world. 


It was truly an amazing exterior and one that I could have spent much more time admiring. 



The front of the cathedral didn’t seem to fit in, since it seemed so plain compared to the rest of the structure.   


Across the street was the music faculty building and vicar’s hall, which were also very nice.

We were ready to check out the interior. After purchasing tickets, we walked through the long hallways in the cloisters.  The suspense was building to see the interior.

Before we got to the main building there was a door to the small cemetery.  I went out and got a great view of the cathedral from the sunny side. But it was interesting that there weren’t any statues on that side.


We then went directly to the nave.  We got a close up view of the scissors arch, which makes Wells very unique.  This type design was used to shore up the structure because it was sinking.  Such a beautiful building.  I will put more photos here than most people will be interested in seeing; but I want to have them here for myself to be able to remember how beautiful it really was.





Throughout the building there were many beautiful statues and stained glass windows.



The stairs to the Chapter House were well worn.  The design of the Chapter House is sometimes referred to as a great palm tree.


After leaving the cathedral, we went back out to the market area to find a place for lunch.  The area was still crowded with people.  We found a place that had a great salad.

Before we left town, I wanted to go back and get a few more photos of the beautiful cathedral.  I was so glad I did.  The sun had moved into a better position for photos.

We left Wells and headed for Heathrow, where we were staying at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Heathrow hotel for the night.  The drive there was uneventful and I was able to drop Carol off at the hotel with the luggage before I returned the car.  I got instructions from the valet how to get to the Hertz rental counter.  He told me to take the first right then the next right.  When I tried to take the first right, it only permitted a U-turn.  Then I was lost in heavy traffic.  I couldn’t believe it.  I pulled onto a side street and hoped the GPS would have the location for the Hertz rental return.  It found the way and directed me to my ultimate destination.  I now had to worry about how much it was going to cost me for the damage from my three accidents.  The only thing I was dinged for was the scraped wheel.  It cost me $450.  It could have been a lot worse.  But I did learn a lesson - buy the rental company insurance when in a foreign country especially if you have a high end car.

It took an hour to get back to Carol, since it did take a while at the return counter.  I also had to go back to a terminal to catch the Hoppa Bus, www.nationalexpress.com/wherewego/airports/heathrow-hotel-hoppa.aspx, that takes travelers to Heathrow hotels.  I didn’t mind the long wait that much.  Since I was through driving, I could finally relax.



The reason we were at Heathrow other than to return the car was to meet up with our buddies Jim and Kathleen the next morning, who were going on the cruise with us.  They were at a different hotel because he was using miles to pay for their hotel.  I was at the Radisson Blu because it was a very nice hotel at a very reasonable rate.  It was only $120 per night, which is outstanding for London.  The room was great and we ate at the hotel restaurant.  We were looking forward to the next couple of days touring with Jim and Kathleen and with someone else driving.

We had booked tours for two days as well as our return transfer after the cruise with David Stubbs, owner of London Country Tours, www.londoncountrytours.co.uk.  I had been communicating with David for over a year.  He had been most helpful in setting up our tours and he was going to personally do the tours for us.  I was really looking forward to finally meeting him.  When the van arrived, David wasn’t driving.  We had a different driver/guide named Jim.  He told us that David had come down with food poisoning.  David had called Jim to fill in for him.  I was disappointed that we wouldn’t have David, but we ended up being very happy with Jim.  He was a real pleasure.

The traffic at Heathrow was terrible and it took us a while to get over to the other hotel.  When we finally arrived we were thrilled to see Jim and Kathleen again.  It felt like the cruise was starting since we have previously been on four cruises with them.

Our first destination was Stonehenge.  With the cruise beginning on June 22, we had originally planned to visit Stonehenge on the 21st.  David had told me that due to the summer solstice activities, Stonehenge is closed to the general public on the 21st and that it would also close early on the 20th.  So we decided to head there on the morning of the 20th. 

During the drive to Stonehenge, Jim kept us very entertained.  He was very interesting and a funny guy.  He didn’t do tours much anymore, since he was also a road manager for the rock group Madness. He had also previously worked with Peter Gabriel and other entertainers, so he had a wealth of stories to tell.  We were thoroughly enjoying him and agreed that David had found a great substitute for us.

After seeing photos of Stonehenge all our lives, we already knew what we were going to see.  Due to the solstice activities, we expected that it was going to be very crowded.  When we arrived it wasn’t too bad.  I had read that fences around Stonehenge prevent tourists from going into the stone circle.  I was pleasantly surprised that a portion of the fence went in pretty close to the stones.  It was close enough for us. 


It is an impressive structure, considering it was constructed over 4,000 years ago.  I took a lot of photos, but most of them all look the same.  We took the path around the circle thinking that it would go all the way around it; but were badly mistaken.  The path dead ends.  So we had to walk all away back along the same path again to get to the exit.  Since the path pushes out pretty far from the circle, it wasn’t a short walk.  We were surprised that the path didn’t go all the way around, since it would really help with crowd control.  The way it is done the traffic is two way, rather than one way.  By the time we got back to the front, the crowds were getting much thicker.  We were glad we were leaving before it got even more crowded.

Our next stop was to be at the ancient town of Old Sarum.  It was the site of the original fort and cathedral that was the first settlement of the town of Salisbury that we would visit later.  There wasn’t much to see at Old Sarum because most of it had been destroyed.  But I was still very anxious to visit the site, since I had read the book Sarum; that focused on the history of the area, from its earliest beginnings 5,000 years ago, where some of the earliest settlers of England lived.  I enjoyed walking on the grounds where so much of the book had taken place.
It was interesting to see the old moats and fort foundations.  We didn’t stay there very long, since there wasn’t that much to see and we were looking forward to visiting Salisbury. 


One of the main story lines in the book was the construction of the Salisbury Cathedral. From Old Sarum’s high position on the hill, I could look down the valley to Salisbury Cathedral’s spire, the tallest in the United Kingdom. 

It was a short drive down the hill to main town of Salisbury.  We parked the van close to the cathedral.  Since it was already 12:30 PM, we just did a quick walk by the cathedral to check it out before heading to a restaurant for lunch.  Even with it being a dreary cloudy day, the cathedral looked spectacular.




Jim suggested a pub in town for lunch that he likes when he visits Salisbury named the New Inn.  It looked like a nice place from the outside.  The interior definitely looked like an old English pub and they served lots of different beers and ales.  I tried one called Tanglefoot.  I really liked it.  The food at the pub was also quite good.  We enjoyed our lunch while Jim kept us entertained.

After lunch, we headed back to the cathedral to see the interior.  Quite a beautiful church.



The stained glass was gorgeous and the statuary quite interesting.




I really liked the ceiling.

Salisbury Cathedral has the largest cloister area in England.  I could only get a photo of it through a window.

We went into the chapter house to see the best surviving copy of the four original copies of the Magna Carta.  Photography is not allowed in the chapter house, which is a shame, since it is quite a lovely room.  It had a similar design to the palm tree look at the Wells Cathedral; but was a much larger room.  A good thing it was a large room, since there were lots of people crowding around to see the Magna Carta.

We told Jim that we had toured enough and were ready to go to Southampton where we had booked a B&B.  I had booked the Alcantara Guest House, www.alcantaraguesthouse.co.uk, based on very positive reviews on TripAdvisor.  We knew that this B&B was not going to be like the lovely ones Carol and I had stayed in while in Bath and Bowness-on-Windermere.  Additionally, it was on a busy street, so we knew the outdoor environment would be quite different. 


I had been communicating with one of the owners, AJ, for quite some time.  She had been such a pleasure during the planning and in helping us with arrangements.  She was just as nice when we met her in person.  The B&B itself was much smaller than the others we had been in and the entry was rather narrow.  Also there was no parlor or living room to go to while checking in or waiting downstairs.  We could deal with that though.  The stairway was quite narrow, which made it difficult for Jim to drag his bags up to his 2nd floor room.  I felt bad that there wasn’t another 1st floor room for them.  We found out later that there was even a 3rd floor room with an even narrower and steeper staircase.  I was shocked the next day when I saw a woman bringing her suitcases down from there.  I don’t know how she did it.

Our room was small, but it did have a king size bed.  With the luggage we had it was crowded.  Jim’s room was right above us, but was arranged differently where they had even less room.  We did have a bay window that looked out onto the street.  It was needed for ventilation, since there was no air conditioning.  There was a fan located near the bed if it got too warm.  With the windows open, it wasn’t an issue; but it could be later in the summer when the weather warmed up some. 


We laid on the bed to see how comfortable it was.  It felt extremely firm to us.  I asked AJ if she had an egg crate mattress topper we could use.  She didn’t have any; but said she would get the bed remade while we were out with a duvet added under the sheets.  It did help some; but it was still too firm for us.  AJ said that Brits do like very firm mattresses and that she had very good beds.  The bed we were on was considered medium firm and that some customers prefer them even firmer.  We ended up sleeping on top of another duvet also to make it softer. 

The bathroom was adequate; but it did have one of the small stall showers. 

Both Jim and I were really surprised that the Alcantara was considered a 4 star B&B.  Maybe the expectations are different in Southampton.  The staff was wonderful; but I was disappointed that I had picked a lodging for my buddies that didn’t meet either of our expectations.  It would make us appreciate our big cabin on the ship with the large shower.

As we have done on other vacations, Jim and I like to get out and walk to see what is around the area.  One of the destinations was to see how far the restaurant Jim wanted to go to was from the B&B to determine if the girls could walk there.  We walked down the rather boring residential type streets for a while until we came to a large park.  The park was most enjoyable with several statues.


The statue we were most interested in seeing was the Titanic Memorial.  The Titanic started its fateful voyage from Southampton.

We found the restaurant and determined that we would be better off getting a cab for the girls.  They were already tired and didn’t need the additional exercise.  We hadn't been able to make reservations online; but we were able to get one in person for that evening.  TripAdvisor had recommended reservations since it was a very popular restaurant.  Jim needed to find an ATM, so we went further into town.  As we walked along, we saw a medieval structure down the street so we headed that way.  It was the Bargate and Guildhall from the 13th century. 


This was the backside of the gate.  It must have been something to see when the walls were still in place.

We looked at our watches and realized that we had walked a lot further than we planned and would have to move quickly to get back to the B&B when we had told the girls we would leave for dinner.  On the way back, we got a kick out of two girls who were taking advantage of the sunny day.

Back at the Alcantara, AJ called a cab for us.  We were going to the Blue Island Greek Restaurant, www.blue-island-restaurant.co.uk.  It wasn’t a fancy restaurant; but it was homey and had a great reputation.  I was surprised that there weren’t more people in the restaurant, based on the warnings that we needed reservations.

We placed our orders for pork souvlaki plates and a combination chicken and pork souvlaki plate.  The food was outstanding.  We even talked about coming back the next evening.

While we were eating, a group came in that was celebrating someone’s birthday.  We began chatting with them after we joined in on singing happy birthday to the celebrant.  They told us that we were very lucky to be able to get seats; since it is normally packed.  Apparently there was a Greek event going on somewhere else in the city, so the normal clients were at it rather than the restaurant.  That was fine with us.  Jim had picked a great restaurant. 

In the morning we didn’t know if our guide Jim would be returning for the day’s tour or if David was feeling well enough.  I had been communicating by email with David during the prior day’s tour, and he wasn’t sure if he could make it.  Sure enough when the van pulled up, Jim was behind the wheel.  That was fine with us, since we had enjoyed him so much the previous day.  Our first destination was to be to Portsmouth.  The main attraction there was the Historic Dockyard. We saw the first of many mastheads we would see during this vacation. 

The only thing I was previously familiar with about it was that the HMS Victory was there.  Jim told us that they had just opened the new Mary Rose museum three weeks earlier.  The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship that sank in 1545.  It was rediscovered in 1971 and salvaged in 1984.  It has undergone conservation efforts since then and is still in the drying process.

The museum building is a large, very modern structure, just the opposite of the contents.  The tickets we had purchased had designated times for entry, but we still had to wait until we were called to enter, since the tickets actually designated a half hour window.  Unfortunately, it began to sprinkle while we waited in line and none of us had brought our umbrellas.  Thankfully we made it inside before we got too damp.

The first part of the museum tells about the ship and explains how it sank.  There are also artifacts from the ship and drawings showing what we would see upon entering the main viewing rooms.


There is only about one third of the ship on display.  It is like it was split in the middle and broken open.  This was because it was laying on its side and only the side that was in the mud survived the ravages of time.  The wood had to be kept moist at all times, since it would lose all of its strength and collapse if it dried out too fast.  For several years it was sprayed with polyethylene glycol to replace the water and provide added strength to the wood.  Because it is now still in the drying phase, there are large dark tubes throughout the structure that are helping with that task.  All of the museum is kept very dark to prevent damage to any of the objects.  It sure makes it a challenge to take photos.


It was quite amazing that they were able to salvage the ship, much less that it was in this good a condition after almost 500 years.  While moving to a higher viewing level, we passed more displays of the objects found on the ship.  It is surprising how much had survived, even the whole skeleton of a dog. They also had canons, arrows, shoes, the crow’s nest and even the brick ovens that were used.



It was easier to tell what we were looking at from the higher view.

Upon leaving the Mary Rose, we walked over to the HMS Victory, which was right next to the Mary Rose Museum.  We had been admiring it while waiting in line to enter the museum.  The Victory is a beautiful ship and in perfect condition.  She is 250 years old and was Admiral Nelson’s flagship during the battle of Trafalgar. 

It was a lot of fun and most interesting to walk through the ship and see how it was decked out.  We did need to be careful not to hit our heads on the low ceilings and beams.




We could get a good view of the Mary Rose museum from the upper deck.

It was a great ship to visit.  Unlike the Mary Rose, you could really experience what it was like to be on a warship.

After we left the Victory, we got to see a different view of it.  Quite a beautiful ship.


One of the other ships on display was the Monitor, not the US Civil War one.  It was built in 1915 and was used during World War 1. 

One of the activities that was included with our dockyard ticket was a harbor tour.  We would be on the Solent Cat.

It was right next to the HMS Warrior that was built in 1860.  It was the first armor-plated, iron-hulled warship.   It was a large ship.  I liked its masthead.


We passed by a lot of different type of ships during the cruise.  There were two that I found the most interesting.  One was a Type 45 Destroyer that is used for air defense.  The other one was a small aircraft carrier that was used for Harrier Jets.  I thought it was interesting how the front edge slanted up to assist in takeoff.


From the water, we could get a great view of the 560 ft. Spinnaker Tower.  It was built in 2005 as part of the harbor redevelopment.  Its design represents a sail.  I am sure the view from the top is something to behold.

The boat made an intermediate stop to drop off and pick up people below the tower.  Once again there was a huge masthead on display.

On the way back to our dock, we got a much better view of the Warrior

We had spent over 3 hours at the dockyards and it was 2:00 PM.  We were starving; but we had more touring to do. We were heading to Arundel Castle.  Jim said it was something we needed to visit.  We told him that we needed to eat first.  He said there was a great restaurant close to the castle that we would like.  It took 45 minutes to get to Arundel.  The town looked like a great place to visit.  The castle dominated the horizon.  We couldn’t wait to visit it later, after we had something to eat. 


Jim kept driving a few minutes until we arrived at the Black Rabbit Pub Restaurant, www.theblackrabbitarundel.co.uk.  This looked like a great place.  Of course we were so hungry we really didn’t care how it looked. 

It was on a river and we could see the castle in the distance.

We went in, ordered our drinks at the bar and sat down at a table.  We were getting used to ordering our drinks at a bar before sitting down by now.  Different from what we are used to; but it worked.  Kathleen and I both got a Tanglefoot Ale.  After I had been raving so much about the one we had in Salisbury, she wanted to get one, too. 
The table we sat at was in front of a row boat that was attached to the wall. The inscription said that the boat had been used in the Harry Potter move The Philosopher’s Stone.  That was the English version of the one shown in the US, The Sorcerer’s Stone.  We were impressed.


We all ordered hamburgers.  We had seen some going by before we ordered and they looked too good not to get. When they arrived, we quickly devoured them.  They were so good and the fries were the best we had eaten the whole trip.

Jim posed for a photo with the girls before we headed to the castle for the tour.

We were getting concerned about having enough time to tour the castle, since it was almost 4:00 PM.  When we got to the entry gates, they were closed.  The last entry was at 4:00 PM and we were 2 minutes late.  Jim tried to find someone to let us in, but to no avail.  We were disappointed; but I think Jim was even more so than us.  He hated that he hadn’t been able to get us there in time to see the castle.  At least we got to see the outside, which was a treat in itself.


Since we had some extra time we walked around Arundel a bit.  We walked through a graveyard with flowers right next to the castle walls.  I think Jim was trying to find a way to break into the castle grounds for us. 

Up the street was the Arundel Cathedral.  Since it was only 150 years old, it didn’t have any significant history associated with it.  The exterior was nice; but paled in comparison to those we had recently seen. 


Everyone was getting tired of touring, so we asked Jim to take us back to the B&B.  When we got there, we said our good-byes to Jim and thanked him for a most enjoyable two days.  No one wanted to make dinner plans, since we had such a late lunch; so we set up a meeting time for in the morning to leave for the ship.


Even with some misfortunes, we had still thoroughly enjoyed or English adventure.  We were looking forward to more adventures on the upcoming 14 day Baltic cruise on the Celebrity Eclipse.  To continue with a review of the Baltic cruise, click on the link below.



Below is a link to the Shutterfly albums with other photos from the vacations:
Shutterfly Albums


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