A few months ago, I asked you all for your help and advice as we started planning our three week trip to England and Scotland this October. I was overwhelmed and delighted with the response (you should see my spreadsheet incorporating it all!—no, actually you shouldn't, because even considering all the obsessiveness you see from me on this blog, you might still be amazed at the untested depths of my obsessiveness about this trip). I also promised that I would update you as the trip approached to let you know how it all came together.
As I progressed with my obsessive planning, I quickly determined that in order to see all the sights on my initial, brainstorming Wish List, we would need—to see it all properly and not just sprint wildly from place to place snapping the occasional photo—at least eight years in England and Scotland. Now, I am completely fine with that, but I am told that I don't have quite enough vacation time accrued to take eight years off. Funding might also be an issue. I realized, as a result, that I would have to make some heartbreaking decisions.
For a few weeks, I did little but map out (literally, on a giant National Geographic map of the UK) where everything was (and I can't tell you how much my geographical knowledge has improved as a result). I looked up distances, trains, and proximities. And the terrible, painful excisions began, including—just to torture myself a bit more—Cornwall, Oxford, Coventry, the Scottish Isles, Glasgow, and the Lake District. I know, I know! I shall pause here for suitable gasps and exclamations of horror.
(And I can add that I was particularly upset by losing out on the southwest of England, because I had so badly wanted to walk dramatically out onto the jetty at Lyme Regis like Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant's Woman, though perhaps not to emulate Louisa in Jane Austen's Persuasion.)
|Sadly, this will not be me in October|
On the other hand, if I approach things from the other direction, and mention the things we are planning to do, it doesn't sound quite so dire, and indeed, some of you may be shaking your heads skeptically, wondering (as I do at times) if we won't collapse from exhaustion halfway through. So, here goes (I'm including some pics from the internet, while I'll hopefully replace with our own pictures in a couple of months):
First, two nights in London. An unavoidable layover, despite our hopes of avoiding big cities for most of the trip. A priority of this trip is to finally get to Windsor, and our attempts at a workable plan to spend a night or two in Windsor instead of in London and then progress to the south were stymied by the fact that apparently every single train in the southern half of the UK passes through London come-what-may, and usually involves not only a change of trains but also a change of train stations, which is always fun with three weeks' worth of luggage. We decided it was better to have a convenient hotel near the train station in London.
|Windsor Castle (is it wrong of me that I see this picture|
and think, "My, what a lot of walking"?)
Oh, and we'll have a glimpse of Eton as well, and pay homage to its fictional graduates, which, a Google search reveals, include Bertie Wooster, Peter Wimsey, James Bond, Sebastian Flyte, Poirot's oft sidekick Captain Hastings, and Lord Grantham from Downton Abbey.
Next, a day in Canterbury. Suitable quotations from Chaucer and Eliot to be recited along the way. (Cathedral #1)
Then, four days with a car, the only time we'll have one during this trip. Much of the four days will likely be spent freaking out over driving on the left side of the road, but in between we hope to hit Dover and Rye (spending a night in the Mermaid Inn, no less), possibly Hastings and Battle, Lewes, and Winchester, with the necessary Bloomsbury stops at Knole, Sissinghurst, Monk's House, and Charleston, as well as Ightham Mote, a whistlestop in Chichester (the cathedral being, if I'm not mistaken, the real life version of Antonia Forest's Wade Minster?), and of course a foray to Chawton. Readings from Mrs. Dalloway and Sense and Sensibility while I have Andy as a captive audience in the car—he'll love that! (Cathedrals 2 & 3)
|The Mermaid Inn, Rye, where we'll spend one night|
On to Bath, with a stop at Avebury on the way (we saw Stonehenge and Salisbury on our last visit, so will reluctantly bypass them this time). A couple of days in Bath, during which we were supposed to do an all-day tour of Cotswold villages, but it booked up ridiculously early (perhaps they should schedule more or larger tours?), so we may have to skip the villages, spend more time imagining ourselves in a Georgette Heyer novel, and perhaps make a half-day jaunt to Gloucester Cathedral—a high priority that I had reluctantly concluded we hadn't enough time to see. (In all fairness, since cathedrals are more my thing than Andy's, I felt we were seeing a sufficient number of them anyway, but if the opportunity falls into our lap, how can I resist seeing the Harry Potter locations at Gloucester—not to mention what looks to be one of the most awesome of all the cathedrals?) (Cathedral #4—and Bath Abbey isn't technically a cathedral, but surely deserves an honorable mention)
|The Roman Baths with Bath Abbey in the background|
After Bath, a painfully short two days in Cambridge, imagining all of its impressive fictional graduates—from Mr. Darcy and Gulliver to Albert Campion and the heroine of Mary Stewart's Stormy Petrel—not to mention a few impressive real life ones. I might also have to imagine where exactly St. Agatha's College, where Jill Paton Walsh's Imogen Quy works as a nurse, would be located if it in fact existed. Hopefully we can catch the Wren Library when it's actually open (2 hours a day, I think?), and see King's Chapel in all its glory. Depending on our energy, we're thinking, on our second day, of either a river walk to Grantchester (to imagine ourselves solving murders in the 1950s) or a jaunt to Peterborough and/or Lincoln for more cathedral storming. (I don't anticipate an attempt at the Great Court Run from Chariots of Fire—especially after all the walking—but you never know!) (1-2 more cathedrals, depending on time)
Next, on to York, where we'll stay for four nights, in part because there are some excellent day tours to be taken from there. I'm sure my first stop will be York Minster, one of the greatest cathedrals (I may find myself imagining the sculptures coming to life as they did in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell.) Our first tour is of Haworth, Harrogate, and Skipton. Quotations from Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre should abound on this day, but I may have to bring in some Agatha Christie if I can veer quickly off of the tour's path to see the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate, where—as you who are fans surely know—Christie was discovered following her famous disappearance in 1926 (registered under a name strikingly similar to her husband's mistress, no less—and I should note that the hotel went by another name in those days too, the Swan Hydropathic Hotel). (1 more BIG cathedral)
Then, our other day tour takes us to the Moors and Whitby (morbid quotations from Dracula a must). If there's time after wandering around York and seeing all its other historic sites, a day trip to Durham should be in the offing, for yet another brilliant cathedral.
|Royal Mile, Edinburgh|
Then on to Edinburgh. Now, I know we're giving Scotland short shrift. We're spending five nights in Edinburgh, but as a co-worker (who was raised in Scotland, not coincidentally) pointed out a bit huffily, two of our days are to be spent on tours back into Northern England. But what can I say? How can I miss the opportunity to get to Hadrian's Wall, Alnwick Castle, Rosslyn Chapel (I would quote from The Da Vinci Code, but I'm not sure there are any quotable lines…), and Lindisfarne, among other places, without having to plan the logistics, ask directions, and, of course, freak out about driving on the left? We will, however, have all of the day we arrive in Edinburgh—late morning, I think, just coming from York—plus one other full day later on, and another full day on which we're considering another tour to Loch Ness and Inverness—and at least that tour would actually keep us in Scotland. We're debating about that tour, because I know that Loch Ness is basically a cheesy tourist trap, but on the other hand, I'm sure Nessie won't pass up the chance to surface for a photo op with the one and only Furrowed Middlebrow, right? Ahem.
By the way, Edinburgh gives me one final historic cathedral, which gives me a minimum total of 7 cathedrals on this visit, with the potential for up to 9. Poor Andy. But on the other hand, he gets to see Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh, and he always loves seeing how the other half lives.
And that's "all". How do you think that balances out all the crushing omissions?