This post is a bit of a stretch from the main purposes of my blog, but I'm doing it because I know how smart and practical and well-traveled the readers of this blog are. How's that for shamelessly kissing up? (Plus, our giant book sale's spring iteration is happening this coming Tuesday, so I expect a post about that coming soon, which will bring us right back on topic.)
My purely selfish request (though it could conceivably benefit others too, so perhaps it's not selfish at all?) is for residents of the U.K. or readers in other parts of the world who have travelled in the U.K.
I'm very excited to say that Andy and I are planning a trip (woohoo!), this October, to England and Scotland, probably with a brief foray into Wales. We will be spending three weeks, which is a wonderfully long time for an American vacation but nowhere near long enough to do everything we want to do. Because we made a trip to London a few years ago, we will focus on other parts of England and on getting into Scotland this time. We also did a day trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge on our previous trip, so we probably won't return to those places (much as we loved them).
A bit of background: Andy and I usually take turns choosing our "big" vacation spots, though the other always has a certain amount of veto power. This is the second time in a row that my choice has been the U.K. (our last trip, to Italy, was Andy's choice). I was able to sell Andy on a return trip because there's just so much left to see outside of London, plus Andy knows my heart is always in England and has taken pity on me. But I'm not sure when I'll be able to justify a third trip, as there are still so many other places we'd like to visit. Therefore, I really want to make this trip count!
Andy and I have overlapping but varying interests; I'm a particularly big cathedral, church, and ruins fan (though I'm not religious at all—I think it must be in my blood from a Puritan ancestor who apparently lived in Lancashire, but more on that another time), while Andy gravitates more to historical sites, palaces, and stately homes. It's also a bit more important to Andy to feel that we've hit all the really major tourist attractions, while I'm often a bit happier being off the beaten path. We both enjoy all of the above, but we try to balance them to get a good mix. And then of course there's book shopping…
Some of the places and things I think we'd like to see: Bath, York, Oxford and/or Cambridge (I'm not going to ask which is better, as that might start a civil war), Canterbury, Avebury, Rye, maybe Knole and Sissinghurst and/or Blenheim Palace, Durham, Haworth (?), the Lake District, the Cotswolds, Hadrian's Wall (best part to visit?), Edinburgh, Loch Ness (?), and at least one Scottish isle. Oh my, it sounds overwhelming already, and those were just the things that leapt to mind! My spreadsheet of sights (yes, seriously, I have one—I am nothing if not thorough) could provide many, many more. Plus, possibly a day in Hay-on-Wye for book shopping???
I hope we'll have a car for all or part of the trip. Andy is ambivalent about driving on the left, but he took to the roundabouts in Italy like a native (terrifyingly so at times), so I think he'll adapt easily. I don't drive all that much even in San Francisco, so it's really his call—but the only thing more terrifying for him than driving on the "wrong" side of the road would be having me do it! Folks have told me repeatedly to remember that distances are not great in the U.K., the whole landmass (the part we'll be visiting, at least) is considerably less than the size of California, you can cover more ground than you think you can, etc., etc., but I know we will still have to do some serious prioritizing, and no one wants a vacation to be one long, gruelling sprint. And along those lines, we also want to consider if guided tours, in some places, might be more efficient and relaxing than figuring out all the logistics ourselves (our Salisbury/Stonehenge excursion was a tour and it was one of our favorite experiences of that trip).
So here I am, asking for your advice. I would love to hear any suggestions about do-able itineraries, priorities, hidden treasures, wonderful experiences, terrible experiences, logical groupings of activities, etc. What are the tourist traps that have little atmosphere or meaning, in your opinion, and what are the can't-miss things that not everyone knows about? Are there particularly good "base camps" where we could settle in and spend 3-4 nights and see a bunch of sights in the surrounding area? Where are the best spots to consider a guided tour or two (looks like there are some from Bath and some from York that might be possible)?
And feel free to offer any other advice that comes to mind as well (including advice on how to emigrate to the U.K. so I have plenty of time for seeing everything…). I'll love hearing from people who have made similar trips. You can email me (at email@example.com) or leave comments. I might share some of the suggestions in a later post as the trip starts to come together, assuming that others are interested in totally self-indulgent information about someone else's trip!
If you are visiting beautiful Durham Cathedral, I would recommend you visit Alnwick as well.ReplyDelete
There is a great second hand bookshop (with café).
Have fun planning your trip.
I love that this is the first suggestion. Barter Books was going to be my choice but you beat me to it.Delete
An absolute must. There is also the beautiful Bowes Museum if you're in the area, not to mention a host of other castles to visit nearby.
Thank you both for the suggestion. You know that Barter Books is now on my "high priority" list! Andy can just find a pub nearby to kill some time...Delete
Nearer to London essential to go to Charleston and Monks House in Sussex. Durham Cathedral would be at the top of my list and while in Northumberland visiting Alnwick go to Dunstanburgh Castle, Wallington Hall, Chillingham Castle.ReplyDelete
If visiting Alnwick go the Northumberland coast and visit Dunstanburgh Castle and Lindisfarne. While in the area Chillingham Castle is eccentric and fascinating and Wallington Hall one of the best National Trust properties in the country. Nearer to London Charleston and Monks House in Sussex will send you back to your Bloomsbury Group reading.ReplyDelete
Thank you, Elizabeth. I somehow didn't have Chillingham or Wallington Hall on my list yet, so I appreciate the suggestion. Definitely hoping to get to Charleston and/or Monks House!Delete
Scott, Be careful about thinking Britain is 'small', it expands like the Tardis once you get here! There is so much to see it is very easy to become a tick-box tourist, and spend most of your time on the motorway, visiting dozens of sights for five minutes each, until they all blur into each other. Canadian friends have had this experience, and wished they'd spent more time in fewer places. Having said that, there is a wonderful train from London (Kings Cross) to Edinburgh. It takes only 4 to 5 hours, and stops at both York and Durham on the way. May be worth looking at for a more stress-free itinery.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Michelle Ann. Your admonition hits home even more because one of my weekend activities was making dots on a large map of the UK where all the "wish list" places are located. Oh dear! The result was that the entire UK seemed to have acquired a bad case of chicken pox. I realized we'll have to focus on certain areas--however tantalizing it may be that other lovely things are "only" 80 miles away. We also found some tours that look promising. Thanks for helping to ground me in reality!Delete
It may be small over here but sometimes travelling can be very annoying especially by car around cities which can get clogged.ReplyDelete
I agree about spending more time in fewer places. I would cross off Loch Ness - all tourist shops. Scotland is as big as England! Hay on Wye for the book shops is brilliant. Hadrians Wall - Housesteds. Lake District - Townend House - wonderful.
And here in beautiful Suffolk!! Big skies and countryside.
Thanks, Sue! See my response to Michelle Ann above, too. Thanks for the encouragement to miss Loch Ness--I was afraid it might just be a tourist trap and I think we can give it a miss. Hadrian's Wall definitely, and the Lake District. I didn't have Townend House, so I'll add it to the list. Thanks!Delete
1. It might be relatively small but our roads are very congested so it is hard work driving for extended periods. I would recommend hiring a car in the south and then either flying or getting the train to Scotland and hiring a car when you get there.ReplyDelete
2. Bath is a must but you should also consider Brighton which has the wonderful Pavilion. Cambridge - no question. Welsh borders for castles. York/Harrogate. Lake District.
3. Check out the National Trust if you are not familiar with it. One membership and you have access to stately homes (e.g. Knole), gardens (e.g Sissinghurst) and other treasures including swathes of landscape all over the country.
4. The Landmark Trust have remarkable buildings which are repurposed as accommodation to rent. It is expensive but if you have ever wanted to stay in a pineapple you might want to treat yourself. http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk/search-and-book/properties/pineapple-10726/
5. If visiting Hay-on-Wye can I recommend hiring a Morgan sports car for the day from the factory. Trust me - a day driving a Morgan from Malvern to Hay through the Golden valley will make you want to live in England permanently.
Have a wonderful time planning and make sure you leave something for the next trip.
Thanks very much, Alice! These are all great suggestions--I'm making notes. I think someone else mentioned the Landmark Trust, and also staying in a monastery or abbey for a night or two as a unique experience. I also have a yearning to spend a night at the Mermaid in Rye, but we'll see...Delete
And it's too late--I already want to live in England permanently!
As others have said above, Scott, Fewer destinations and more time.ReplyDelete
One thing that I so often get wrong (though I try to avoid it, really) is driving all day and arriving just as everything's closing down. Arrrggh!
Anyhow, yes, stay a few days in a central spot and visit around the area.
IF you are going to Glasgow, DO NOT MISS the Tenement House http://www.nts.org.uk/Property/Tenement-House/ Not a stately home, not a cathedral, but an authentic time capsule of life in Glasgow in the early-to-mid 20th century.
"It's also a bit more important to Andy to feel that we've hit all the really major tourist attractions."
Well, you absolutely won't come anywhere near that, so perhaps best to not even try. Honestly.
You are going to have so much fun!
Tenement House looks perfect, Susan! How did I not know about it? See my response to Michelle Ann above re fewer destinations--my map really hoped drive that home!Delete
A few things to add to my long email.ReplyDelete
If Andy is driving down one of the one lane with pull offs roads, and there is a pull off to the right side, remember it is the oncoming traffic that uses it, in spite of all your US instincts to pull off to the right!
Use the internet to check hours and if various sights are open in October, as it will be later than the norm for tourist season, and many things will have limited hours or may be closed for the season.
If you don't have a cell phone that can get an international calling plan afford ably, see about buying a cheap local cell phone and one month calling plan. 10 pounds will get you a LOT. You can call for a taxi, call to confirm reservations of mini-tours, etc.
Enjoy what you CAN do rather than worry about what you can't fit in!!! The first and last rule of travel. You can't do everything.
Thanks, Jerri! All great suggestions, and see my response to Michelle Ann above. Reality is already sinking in, but also a lot of excitement. I may be sad not to make it to Lands End, for example, but there will be plenty of other compensations!Delete
If you're travelling up to the Lake District and Haworth etc, then you might enjoy a stop in the Peak District to visit Chatsworth. It's not the cheapest of places to visit but if you like stately homes then it's up there with the biggest and best. Plus the Peak District generally is very, very beautiful - it might be a bit wet in October but it's still a lovely part of the world. If you had time then I'd also suggest Haddon Hall, which isn't far from Chatsworth. It's smaller but it's a beautiful 'pocket-sized' country house (and it was used as Thornfield Hall in the most recent film of Jane Eyre) and is worth a visit. You can also rent holiday cottages on the Chatsworth estate - again it's not the cheapest thing to do but it's a unique experience. As for bookshops, there's Scarthin Books near Matlock, Scriveners in Buxton and there's an odd little (and very full!) bookshop called Peak Volumes in Tideswell. They're all within a short drive of the Chatsworth area.ReplyDelete
I would recommend hiring a car though. A lot of the places in the UK are more off the beaten track and you'd waste so much time (and money!) trying to visit anywhere outside of a major city by using public transport.
Thanks, Emma! I've read a bit about the Peak District, but I had no idea about Haddon Hall, and thanks so much for more bookshop recommendations--more time at the pub for Andy!Delete
I've never used them, but I suspect that if your itinerary, when you decide on it, includes any of the places covered in Jane Brocket's BROCKET GUIDES series, you would enjoy them. You and she share an interest in obscure (English women) writers. Take a look at her blog; her books (Guides and others) are listed down the right margin. Just a thought.ReplyDelete
That's a great idea, thanks. I wasn't aware of these and will definitely have a look.Delete
I would really recommend basing yourself in Lewes, East Sussex for a bit, as from there you can admire Eric Ravilious territory and visit Monk's House, Charleston, Sissinghurst, Rye and Hastings pretty easily (as long as you hire a car). I'd also recommend travelling through Yorkshire: it offers such beautiful, diverse scenery (with many literary connections too!). Ripon is a lovely place to base yourself: in the past, we have stayed at a charming cottage right next to Fountains Abbey & Deer Park. Again, if you have a car you can travel around easily, taking in York, Whitby, Harrogate, the moors, Castle Howard (of Brideshead Revisited fame), and one of my favourite historic houses: Newby Hall. I hope this is helpful! Miranda xxx http://mirandasnotebook.com/ReplyDelete
Thanks, Miranda, this is all excellent. When I marked sites on my map, Sussex was one of the most densely dotted areas, so a few days there is a must. Lewes looks like a great, central spot--if only Virginia were still around to invite us to stay at Monk's House while we're there!Delete
All these comments are making me even more anxious to get back there - it has been nearly 16 years! My problem, which seems to be addressed herein is, a small country, BUT (and this is a big bhut) how do I combine Brighton and Cornwall, with Manchester, Yorkshire, and Scotland? Sigh. Oh, Scott, I do envy you guys, though! And Hay-on-Wye, a whole town of booksellers! TomReplyDelete
Very sadly, Tom, looking at my map, I think Cornwall may be very difficult to work in, though I would love to get there. Not certain about Manchester, either, since I'm sort of looking to stay more away from major cities, but Yorkshire, Scotland, and Hay-on-Wye for sure!Delete
Planning is so much fun and what a favour to those of us who will benefit from so many excellent suggestions. I visited Cambridge last May and can't wait to go back; Oxford is equally breathtaking. Every time we watch 'Lewis' it's mandatory to say 'I was there! If Canterbury is part of your plans (my daughter went to uni there) consider the WWII tunnels hidden within the while cliffs of Dover! Chatsworth, Haworth, Sissinghurst and Monk's House are on my list for future trips so I look forward to reading about your travels once you're back.ReplyDelete
I didn't know about the Dover tunnels, Darlene, so thanks for mentioning those! I don't think there's an easy choice between Oxford and Cambridge, unfortunately...Delete
If you've not been to York, then York Minster should be high on your list. The most beautiful medieval stained glass still extant in England, plus The Shambles, the old medieval market area near the Minster. You're also not far from Castle Howard (think "Brideshead Revisited"). There are also the Yorkshire Dales, and you're not too far from Bronte Country/Haworth, either. York is my favorite place in England, and the Minster is stunning. The Jorvik Viking Centre is a bit corny, but I found it interesting nevertheless.ReplyDelete
Definitely York is on the list, Dean, probably a spot to stay for a few days. And I'm thinking we may need to watch Brideshead Revisited before going...Delete
RE: Oxford v. Cambridge. Both are worth visiting, but Oxford is a more bustling, industrial city, in addition to being a university town. Cambridge is quieter and smaller. Also you can visit Ely Cathedral and the fens after Cambridge. But then, from Oxford you can get to Blenheim Palace and into the Cotswolds...ReplyDelete
This is helpful and makes me lean toward Cambridge. Thanks, Dean!Delete
As I live in York I am more than biased. If you are driving then on the way to York stop off at Brodsworth Hall near Doncaster. This is a Victorian country house restored exactly as it was. If you go to Harrogate try to get to Brimham Rocks. These are glacial rock formations that you can climb all over.ReplyDelete
Thanks, Alison, I'll look more closely at both of these. I don't think either was on my list from the guidebooks I've looked at, so thanks for sharing them!Delete
You could consider basing yourself in the Scottish Borders for a few days - somewhere like Melrose, it's within reasonable driving distince of Northumberland, has all the Walter Scott associations (abbotsford is wonderful, there are tower houses, ruined abbeys, a distillery (glenkinnchie), great scenery, some major country houses including one with a solid silver staircase, and now a convenient train line into Edinburgh. Seeing a Scottish island as well might leave you short of time but from Glasgow you could take a train up the west coast which would give you some great views and maybe time to relax.ReplyDelete
Thanks, this is helpful too. It's hard to know which towns make good spots to stay--i.e. have good accommodation, but are still pleasant and interesting in themselves--so I'm glad to have the recommendation of Melrose. And I do like the idea of the train journey. Our last day in London, we were exhausted and finally followed the advice of a guide book to take a double-decker bus across town and just enjoy the sights, and it was a great low-key experience and we still saw lots of new things.Delete
Hi Scott, I haven't said anything so far because I agree with all the excellent advice you have been getting. I thought you might be interested though in glancing at the current discussion that is happening on the Chalet School Bulletin Board, if you haven't already spotted it :http://www.the-cbb.co.uk/viewtopic.php?f=21&t=14046.ReplyDelete
It covers much the same ground :-)
No, I hadn't found that, Gil. Thanks for mentioning it. Looks like lots more good advice to absorb!Delete
Hi Scott, I've only just discovered your blog and signed up so feel a little presumptive joining in already but having made the mistake of thinking San Diego was not far from San Francisco and going by train on the spur of the moment I realize a little planning goes a long way ! I grew up in London/Eire and now live in Cornwall with a view across to Lands End. I go back to London using the sleeper train which gets into Paddington early but they don't throw you off for a couple of hours and there are showers/first class lounge facilities free for sleeper passengers breakfast at Simpsons in the Strand is the set you up for a busy day last year fitted in the Importance of Being Earnest & Hamlet + gallery exhibition and lunch at Liberty's ! Then you could get the sleeper train think the 39 Steps ! to the western isles. An early morning flight to Dublin would work as Dublin very manageable in a day for Book of Kells , James Joyce tour or just the Guinness factory ? Be careful re national trust properties as many close over winter months and also a warning that our schools have a weeks break in October which if you seek peace may prove challenging. You can rent many National trust properties for short stays (Devon you can stay in Agatha Christie's house - Greenways). I think you can rent part of Charleston her garden room ? You must visit Rye home too - E F Benson & Lucia. Glasgow is a great city and Rennie Macintosh buildings stunning to see. Bath also a must or rent John Fowles house in Dorset. My aunt lives in San Francisco and when I visited had to buy another bag for all the books I bought there, I also wouldn't drive in SF but San Diego was another matter and my hire Chrysler Sebring was a joy !!!ReplyDelete
These are great suggestions, Nic. Thanks for sharing them, and glad you found the blog! I didn't realize it was possible to stay in Christie's house--another thing to add to the list. But Rye is definitely on the list already--not only E. F. Benson, but Henry James and Rumer Godden, all having lived in the same house--how could I miss it? And thanks for the warning about the school break--do they all break during the same week?Delete
Wow, that train journey from San Diego to San Francisco must have come as quite a surprise--and you must have had plenty of time during the journey to contemplate your mistake!
Half terms tend to fall at the same time ! I'll try and find out from a teacher friend as different counties sometimes stagger breaks. Yes that train journey was an experience but a lovely lady had her laptop and film to watch so just had to face the thought of the return journey !! Do you belong to the oak leaf ? USA supporters of the national trust to get free entry here or you can buy a 7 or 14 day pass for overseas visitors. Forgot to mention they also have a small stone cottage adjoining Hadrian's wall that can be rented email them for the brochure that shows all available properties might help you plan a route if nothing else !Delete
Great suggestion re the Royal Oak Foundation--I've been looking at their site and it seems like it would be well worthwhile to join. Thanks for mentioning it!Delete
Coming late to this, but I would put in a big 'yes!' to the Lake District - my favourite place there is the Arts and Craft house Blackwell.ReplyDelete
And I echo what others have said about Hay on Wye. You really can't *not* go there. It's a town of about 30 secondhand bookshops. I mean, come on. It's also a beautiful area.
Obviously Oxford is better than Cambridge, goes without saying ;) If you do come here, then let me know if you'd like a cuppa in a cafe!
I'm in Cornwall as I write, and I read your possible choices for your itinerary. I would urge you to keep it small, go to one or two places, and wallow for a while. It's really the best way to become part of a community for a short time. You can learn SO much that way. Do you ever read Simon Thomas's blog Stuck-in-a-Book? Or his Shiny New Books one? He's in Oxford. Also don't miss out on Persephone Books on Lamb's Conduit Street in London. Nicola would probably like to meet you! I expect you'll be writing about the trip here, and I'll look forward to it.ReplyDelete
I realize this is heresy on a book blog but Hay On Wye is a TOWN of book stores. I found it extremely frustrating to have only a day there as I needed a week at least to browse and enjoy, so do consider that in your planning, if you are planning only an overnight stay it is off the beaten track to get to in only three weeks.ReplyDelete
I echo the suggestion to see York - walking on the Roman Walls around the city, the Minister, the Shambles, the Georgian houses, the Viking museum all in a very walkable area.
And a totally outrageous suggestion for a stay of only three weeks but one we did on our last stay and I was extremely sorry we had not done before - consider taking a train to Thurso, and then driving to John o Groats and taking a day trip to Orkney to see ScapaFlow - with the Churchill Barriers, the wonderful Church built in a hut by the Italian prisoners of war, the standing stones and the uncovered village of Skara Brae. It is worth the effort of getting there even if only for the day trip to Orkney. It is one of my all-time highlight days - though I must mention we had good weather!