British Heritage Pass Properties
Trip Start May 08, 2009
1Trip End May 19, 2009
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Where I stayed
Narrowboats at Bedford Priory Marina
Leaving LHR in our rental car, Friday morning, we made it to Windsor Castle in time for the 11AM changing of the guards. This is the Queen's official residence and favorite summer home, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world. We opted out of the castle tour, which is a half day event, instead, touring the town and subsequent towns on the Thames. Cliveden was our favorite: 5-star hotel that was once home to the Astors and 3 Dukes and Prince of Wales.
I discourage anyone from overnighting on a stationary narrow boat in the Bedford Priory Marina, as it was at least 2 hours drive each way each day from all interesting sites. This lead to long, exhausting days to even come close to completing half of our daily itens, which we mapquested at home. (It would be a different experince to travel by narrow boat with your family as your vacation, for those interested.) Having said that, it can be very expensive for even average accommodations in England. Mom and I were grateful this RCI "time share" for the week, for the double bedrooms and bathrooms, full kitchen where we prepared a hot meal and full breakfast daily, and from which we packed lunch and fruit for the day.
Saturday, we enjoyed St. Albans, a historic Roman village, with a magnificent Abbey, and the beautiful St. Michael' Manor B & B. Runneymede is the revered site of the signing of the Magna Carta, on which the US Constitution is based. Foxhill and Great Fosters were hunting lodges for the royals, and are now expensive manors. Spring in England is exemplified by the basketball-size rhododendron blossoms and beautiful, purple wisteria vines, especially those at Tylney Hall Manor. (A guest belle from Baton Rouge offered that they were chestnut trees and lilacs, but we think she had an additive to the Earl Grey tea she was sipping.)
Driving even along the Motorways in England are gorgeous: hilly terrain, sheep grazing, and yellow fields of rape weed (which we call ragweed or hayfever, which seems logical to me). Winchester has the largest medieval Cathedral and town is charming. We crossed the chalky terrain of Wiltshire, where carvings are etched in the hillsides, and where many people hike and ride bikes. We saw the 404' tallest spire in Salisbury, but gave up fighting the town's traffic to get a close-up of Britain's finest medieval cathedral where the Magna Carta is treasured.
The circle of Stonehenge is one of the few world's manmade sites (Chichen Itza, Egyptian pyramids) that make an unforgetable impression and illicit more answers than questions. The highlight of the day was Stourhead 18th c. world famous gardens (with it's temple, tower, lake, and bridges) is one of England's most picturesque, contrived landscapes. Arriving at 6pm, they were closing. (We were sickened to learn they had an annual event where 1000 performers sing and play throughout the day, we walked every inch to try to recapture what we had missed.)
Sunday we had the coveted scone with clotted cream at a bakery in the preserved village of Lacock, with it's beautiful Abbey, which was founded as a nunnery in 1232. Harry Potter movies and Pride and Prejudice put the Abbey on the silver screen. In Bradford-on Avon, a picturesque Saxon town, Families were manuvering through the canal locks on their narrowboats. The smell of Mother's Day English pot roast dinners with bread pudding was tempting us, but we endured, vowing we would make time the next Sunday. We wanted to explore the natural hot spring Roman baths and pump room unearthed at the world heritage city, Bath, also on the Avon river. The Royal Crescent Hotel (the world's finest) is part of the reason why this is Britain's most architecturally perfect city. Oxford is the city of spires and the Cathedral (college chapel), Bodleian Library, Radcliffe Camera, Sheldonian Theatre are not to be missed. Walking around the college campus where Tolkien sat under the tall Scot pine, and CS Lewis and Oscar Wilde and Bill Clinton learned is awesome, to say the least. I regret not going overseas to college.
Monday we hoped we could slow down our pace, having visited the big cities on the weekend to avoid the London traffic on the M-ways by heading SW to the Cotswolds, a rural area of narrow and curvy roads, with numerous, picturesque small and tiny villages of old stone homes and slate roofs, from the sheep-for-wool days. The charm and quaintness and uniqueness of each hamlet is what makes you want to find your favorite one. Choose between Malmesbury: The Old Bell, Abbey House Gardens and the Whately Manor , Tetbury: Prince Charles Highgrove Shop, Minchinhampton: 17th c. marketplace, Bear of Rodborough, Painswick Rococo Garden, Cirencester: New Coln Inn, Bibury: Swan Inn, Northleach: wool church, Burton-on-the-Water: windrush river, Lower Slaughter: Manor House, Upper Slaughter: Lords of the Manor Hotel.
Tuesday was also devoted the the Cotswolds, where most people choose a manor in their favorite hamlet, and walk on the 100 mile Cotswold Way through sheep farms connecting villages. The beautiful sunny weather beckoned, but we continued exploring by car, to cover more area. The Woburn Abbey and Deer Park was nearby, so we explored the grounds only, given they were open 10-4, and we were gone at day from daybreak to dark. Due to the driving conditions, traveling these 1000 year old paths-turned-roads takes much longer than you can predict. (We hear the roads in Wales and north are even more arduous and poorly marked, so we postponed those areas for a future trip - like we had much choice!) Also, the signs of a camera are not to alert you of a photo op - but that police are watching for speeding.
Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill, is the only non-royal home termed palace. It is awesome beautiful and 'Capability Brown' landscaped parkland and formal gardens are unrivaled anywhere in Britain. They were filming Gulliver's Travels during our visit. After checking out Woodstock, we found North Wraxall, which is not near anything other that the equally miniscule Ford, the more touristy Stow-on-the-Wold and Burford, and midsize Moreton-in-Marsh and Broad Campden. The end of the day finished with touristy Broadway and Chipping Campden, where the Hidcote Manor Garden had themed areas compartmentalied by hedges.
Wednesday we walked around Kenilworth Castle, England's grandest and most romantic ruin, then went to it's opposite, the touristy Warwick Castle, which is a medieval experience, complete with dungeon and torture chambers, which is not for sissies. Stratford-on-Avon has Shakespere's birth house and gardens, and we toured Ann Hathaway's cottage, where her courted his future wife. Their children lived here as well, and he is buried in Stratford. (We prefer Stratford in Canada, as the town is unattractive, aside for 5 tourist sites.)
Thursday was our last day in the area, so we headed east to ensure we could see Cambridge.