United Kingdom Stories and Tips

London to Cardiff

Assembly Rooms, Bath Photo, Bath, England

The group gathered in the morning and i met our guide, David. There are several women and a man traveling alone and i started out sitting with a teacher from Australia. Later on in the tour we all spread out a bit more where possible so i had a seat to myself for the second half. David is Irish and a cattle farmer off season. He's very friendly and funny and i think he's going to be a good one to have along for the ride!

Our stop at Hampton Court was brief and was only a visit to the gardens. We entered by the Lion's gate in the back and saw the maze and the Great Vine and a few sunken gardens that are still being restored. It's interesting to compare the architectural differences between the Tudor parts and the bits that were designed by Christopher Wren for William and Mary in the late 17th century/early 18th. I returned for a bit longer visit in 2000 and have attached that review to this journal.

Next Stop is Salisbury. That's a lunch stop so the bus parks near the Cathedral Close. We are pointed in the direction of the Cathedral should we wish to visit and told to be back at the bus in 2 hours. I head to the Cathedral and am again amazed at how enormous it is! This was built in the 13th century and the surface is smoke stained and worn. The steeple is under scaffolding and it apparently leans 29 inches off center but hasn't fallen over in it's 700-odd years. There is a little cafeteria so i had lunch there, bread, cheese and soup. I have a look around the Cathedral and spy a grouping of flags of various ages hanging from the wall. These are the standards of the Duke of Edinburgh's Wiltshire Regiment. One was from 1806, the colours of the 62nd Regimental Foot and is just threads and webbing, having been lost in the Ganges in India for 8 months in the mid 19th century. It's been hanging in the Cathedral since 1848.

The town of Salisbury looked delightful but i chose to spend my free time at the Cathedral. That's the thing about a bus tour. Bus tours give you an overview of the area and you do get to see the main tourist attractions with often front of the line advantages. No Waiting for tickets! You get an idea of where you might want to return to on your own later and Salisbury is a town i think i'd like to see more of.

We were taken out to Stonehenge but that was one sight i hadn't been that excited to see. I didn't bother to pay the fee to go onto the grounds closer to the stones. You could see them just fine from the road so i took one picture and had someone take my picture with them in the background. They were smaller than i expected. Still very large but i had thought they would be massive.

We drove through the Devon countryside which was very picturesque and filled with thatched roofed farmhouses and lots and lots of sheep! One road we drove on was so narrow that the trees brushed the windows of the bus on both sides! There was a brief "comfort" stop at an air museum and a stop in Exeter for a quick stretch of the legs to have a look-see at the Cathedral there. The hotel was actually outside of Exeter off the motorway, The Exeter Court, and was a motel type building with all the rooms at ground level. Room was basic and the dining room was off the bar where i met a few of the tour people before hand for a drink. The food, however was really good!!

My co-travelers were quite an international group, natives of Canada, U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the Phillipines. The ages ranged from 15 right up to two couples both married 50 years! Most nights on the road the evening meal was included and eaten in the hotel dining room so on those nights, many of the group fell into a routine of meeting for a drink before dinner in the hotel lounge. We often sat in the lounge or bar after dinner as well and got to know each other.

First stop the next morning was in Plymouth at the historic harbour and surrounding area called the Barbican and we heard many tales of press ganging men and boys into the Navy and we heard all about Sir Francis Drake's escapades during the Armada. We saw where the Mayflower was launched and though it didn't do anything for me, the Americans on the tour seemed interested in taking lots of pictures of the commemorative carvings and steps. I took pictures of the boats moored in the harbour and of the old part of Plymouth which has extremely narrow streets and whitewashed buildings, some with half timbered exteriors and many with baskets of flowers hanging from windows and doorways. David also read us a poem by Tennyson about a ship called the Revenge. David travels with a laptop and has all kinds of neat information stored in it. He's done this for a few years and has gathered a lot of interesting facts, stories and tidbits related to the history of the places we go to.

We drove through Dartmoor National Park next with a photo stop at the top of a hill, or Tor where the wild ponies and sheep roam the moors. The moors are wide open spaces with very little vegetation above the level of the yellow-blooming gorse bushes. The ponies do actually belong to someone but are set free for the summer season as are the sheep. The
sheep were all marked with blue dye sprayed on their backsides. They do this to identify which ones belong to who. These sheep aren't used for the wool but for the mutton so it doesn't matter if their fleece is stained.

On the drive to Glastonbury, David read a bit to us from le Mort D'Arthur which popularized the King Arthur legends in the 13th century. There's not much left of the abbey there but i bought a sandwich from a snack shop and had it on the grounds under a tree and then had a look in the old chapel and cookhouse which is still standing. There are the graves of two people buried at what used to be the altar and that's supposed to be Arthur and Guinevere but it's not been proven. Good for tourism though i suppose. There may have been a Celtic king in the Saxon era that fought and won many battles which is where the legends probably started. It's probably not some place i would have stopped to check out had i been on my own but it was a relaxing lunch stop just the same.

Bath was lovely, full of Georgian architecture built out of the creamy coloured "Bath" stone. Bath was founded before the Romans but the Romans developed it into a spa once they had discovered the mineral springs. It fell out of fashion and was nearly wiped out but was revived in Georgian times, rebuilt and turned into a fashionable society hang out by the team of Ralph Allen, architect John Wood and P.R. guy Beau Nash. I didn't bother going to see the restored Roman baths or the Abbey. I wanted to wander around the streets instead and found a branch of the Past Times chain of stores that sells recreations of various historical eras. It's gift ware, scarves, jewelry, crafts, stationary etc. I saw more of it in 2003.

Our destination for the night was the Royal Hotel in downtown Cardiff and a few blocks away from the big sports stadium where just the night before was host to a U2 concert. Too bad we missed it since we probably could have heard it from the hotel although the traffic and noise afterward would have gone on long into the night. As it was, it was a pretty noisy night as the university results were just released that day and there were a lot of kids celebrating. I relaxed in my lovely large high ceilinged room with the old fashioned tub and heated towel racks until it was time to meet for our excursion to Cardiff Castle which included a traditional Welsh/Medieval banquet in rooms in the old cellars of the castle. The castle was restored by a Victorian Marquise in the Victorian version of medieval. Very over
the top but some of it was quite interesting. The banquet was full of tour groups. There was a host and the waitresses were dressed in traditional costume. We ate off wooden plates and drank from pewter mugs. There was entertainment, singing and dancing too and all in all worth the price of admission.

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