England & Wales - 2005
Welcome to our England and Wales trip description for 2005. We decided to try England in the South and West area as well as South Wales since we had been to neither in past trips. The first part of the trip took us to Bath, England (probably our 4th trip to Bath, second time staying in Bath) as a home base for seeing areas nearby, followed by a trip across the border to South Wales, and then back to England in the Cotswolds area followed up by a few days in London before returning home. The trip descriptions below reference these wonderful places and I hope that you find them informative and enjoyable.
Castle Information - Check out this site to find info on various Castles in Wales.
We began our trip by flying on Tuesday, June 7th, from Denver, Colorado to London Heathrow on a British Airways 777 non-stop flight. We left on a Tuesday, but arrived in London on a Wednesday around noon. As usual, we spent the first day recuperating from jet lag by walking around the British Museum (as described in our other trips, it's free and close to where we stay - the Bonnington Hotel). After a couple of hours at the museum we went back to the hotel for a splash of water on the face followed by a trip down to The Swan pub (two blocks away) for some good ale. We decided to try something different and violate our old tried-and-true method of going to bed around 10PM, and this time decided to call it quits around 8:30PM. We ended up watching a little bit of TV and fell asleep shortly thereafter. We really felt pretty exhausted so had no problems staying asleep for the night. We got up the next morning and had the usual "full English breakfast" at the Bonnington's downstairs restaurant and then headed for the Hertz rental place that is roughly a few blocks away. As usual, it seems to take forever to actually rent the car and get out on the road. Our plan was to drive to Bath for a five night stay followed by a few nights in south Wales, then a few nights in Ironbridge Gorge (near Shrewsbury), then two nights in the Cotswolds, and then three nights back in London. We also decided that since we are typically pretty shot on the first day after arriving, we would take it kind of easy and yet see something on the way to Bath. We decided to see Windsor Castle since it's west of London and along the way to Bath. Great castle with a quaint town beside the castle and the walk did us well.
Bath As A Home Base
We went back to the Wells cathedral and attended the Evensong which had a girls choir doing the singing. Although boys and men have sung at the cathedral for around 800 years, they now have girls singing as well. They were quite good and their songs were very relaxing and meditative. The evensong occurs at 5:15PM similar to many other cathedrals in the U.K. When you hear the bells ringing, note that the cathedral has the heaviest ring of 10 bells found in the world. Although a place of worship existed in the early 900s AD, the cathedral as you see it today dates to the end of the 1100s when a new cathedral was built. It is a marvelous cathedral and one you should definitely see when staying in the area of Bath.
The Bath Abbey, Wells Cathedral, and Salisbury Cathedral are quite nice, but Winchester Cathedral is perhaps a notch up from the others. The Cathedral Church, so named because it houses the throne (or ‘cathedra’) of the Bishop of Winchester, has its origins in the seventh century, when a Christian Church was first built on the site. The cathedral, in the Romanesque style, was begun in 1079. The site of St. Swithun's shrine, which stood there until it was destroyed in 1538, contains the largest surviving area of 13th century medieval tiles in the country. When building the cathedral, there was one slight "problem" after the cathedral was built - the foundation was built on a wet area and frequently suffered flooding in the crypt. You can take a tour of the crypt if it isn't flooded (it wasn't when we were there, the first time in years) and see how high the water rises. During the late 19th century the monumental task of using concrete to re-point the stones used as the foundation occurred and kept the cathedral from sinking in to the ground. It involved about 250 volunteers and years of work, but when you see this cathedral you will see that the work enabled all of us to see this wondrous site. Probably the most notable person buried at the cathedral is the famous author, Jane Austen. We left the cathedral due to a fire alarm going off but it was at the end of our tour anyway so it wasn't a problem. An elderly lady said she had never witnessed a fire alarm go off during her long tenure at the cathedral and there was some minor confusion of what to do. We were in the library looking at old books when it happened and were the last people to leave the cathedral since few knew we were there.
We left the cathedral and wandered up the street to see King Arthur's "round table" at the Great Hall which is nearby. The round table (doubtful it's the original since it was carbon dated to the early 1200s) hung on the wall unpainted for nearly 300 years before Henry VIII had it painted just before Charles V's visit. Winchester Castle ruins can be seen nearby and dates from the reign of William the Conqueror (1066-1087). By the end of King John's reign in 1216 the castle and its royal palace needed extensive repair so somewhere between 1222 and 1235 the Castle's hall was replaced by the building which stands today. The hall is a magnificent building that also includes a painted lineage on the end opposite from the round table. The great hall lives up to its reputation as the first and finest great hall of the 1200s.
City of Bath
We also took a stroll across Pultney Bridge and ate at the Rajpoot Indian restaurant which is just across the river Avon. The view along the river is quite nice and makes for excellent photographs for those that are interested. I took some of our Nan bread with me so I could feed the many seagulls that fly around the river area and are comical to watch as they vie for scraps of bread. We walked around the city some more and then finally, decided to go back to the B&B for the evening as we prepared to head towards the Wye Valley area of south Wales. It wouldn't end quite so well though. Turns out that upon leaving the next day my "unbreakable" glasses frame decided to break. The owners of the B&B were nice enough to give me a roll of tape so I could tape up my glasses until I either got another pair, or had mine repaired. We drove west to Bristol and spent quite a bit of time walking around the city trying to find a one hour optical place that could fix my glasses. The glasses couldn't be repaired, so I ended up buying a new pair in Bristol at their downtown enclosed mall. Of course I couldn't just get glasses based on my current prescription, I had to have a new eye exam and then I could buy the new glasses. The glasses ended up costing me about 350 dollars and a few hours we didn't plan on spending. Next time I have a gut feeling that I need to bring an extra pair of glasses I'll do it. Although we left Bath to head towards south Wales, the story continues with other places we saw while in England which you will find below.
We left Tintern in Wales, viewed the Tintern Abbey on the way out, and then drove to Ironbridge Gorge (near Shrewsbury) to view the local sights of where the Industrial Revolution began back in 1709. Until this time, charcoal was used with iron ore that produced a limitation on the amount of iron that could be produced for all the many facets of machinery of the time. As you can imagine, there is only so much wood that could be harvested to create charcoal. Enter Abraham Darby. Mr. Darby found a way to use "coke" in the iron creation process and this eliminated the need for wood which was the constraining factor in iron production. The area along the scenic river includes several sites that reflecting life in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We visited the Coalport China Museum, Museum of the Gorge, Jackfield Tile Museum, Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron, Broseley Pipe Works, Rosehill House, Enginuity, Blists Hill Victorian Town, and of course, the Iron Bridge (1779) that crosses the river. There is also a Tar Tunnel that we were unable to visit due to time constraints. Other than the Iron Bridge, the main attraction is probably Blists Hill where a rather large reconstructed Victorian Town exists. There are many things to see and do at Blists Hill and you could easily spend a day seeing everything. You first go to a bank to exchange your money for "money" of the time (it can't be spent outside of Blists Hill) to get an idea of what it was like to buy things. I saved some of the money we exchanged as a souvenir, but you really don't need to bother with this if you'd rather skip it and go straight to the various sights and activities throughout this rather large area. They have people dressed in period costumes to assist you with the Victorian experience. Felt somewhat like a theme park, but focused more on Victorian times with more informative subject matter that we found interesting.
We thought that since there were so many things to see in the area, we would stay three nights at a B&B. We chose Hill Top House for the B&B which had decent rates, was finely furnished, and the hosts were pleasant. The B&B is up a long hill on the "other side of the river" so it isn't very close to the downtown area of Ironbridge Gorge. I wouldn't recommend the walk to the main attractions since the hills are quite steep and isn't within what I would call "walking distance." We easily drove our car to the main car park however, and then walked across the Iron Bridge which isn't open to traffic other than pedestrians. I would describe the area as "quaint" if I had to label it, although I wouldn't say it's quaint like the Cotswolds. The area has most all of the various sites within easy walking distance of the Iron Bridge although you would probably want to drive to some, especially Blists Hill Victorian Town. Enginuity is a hands-on place for kids (and adults too) to experience a variety of scientific subjects related to Power & Energy, Materials & Structures, Systems & Control and Design using interactive displays. We made the mistake of walking to Enginuity after buying some iron gizmos as souvenirs which were quite heavy to be hauling on a rather long walk in hot weather. If you would like to go to the Enginuity displays, I suggest that you go there first before buying anything made of iron. I'd also suggest you take the bus to Enginuity from any area near the Iron Bridge rather than walking since it isn't exactly all that close.
We walked from our B&B to a nearby area known as Brosely that had several pubs and stores where we could wash our clothes, eat, and drink. We found the best food was at a place named The Lion Hotel. We ate all of our meals and drank at the pub at the Lion Hotel and since it is a hotel, I decided to check out their rooms. It turns out that the Lion Hotel had nice rooms and the cost was about the same as our B&B, even cheaper. Since we were walking there every evening to eat and drink anyway, it would have made more sense to book our stay at the Lion Hotel where we could eat and drink when we wanted. While I was looking for B&Bs in the area of Ironbridge Gorge, I didn't realize that Brosely was close, so I never inquired about the Lion Hotel. I wish I had since it would have saved a quarter mile walk back to the B&B every evening and we spent a lot of time walking throughout the day. I would highly recommend staying at The Lion Hotel if you want to stay at a nice establishment that has the best food in the area.
Although we found the visit enjoyable, I would not recommend staying in the area for three nights. It simply isn't necessary. Most all of the sights can be viewed in a day and a half with most of that time spent at Blists Hill Victorian Town. If you wanted to skip Blists Hill, you could stop and see the sights easily in a few hours on your way to perhaps Northern Wales, Chester, or Shrewsbury. This is probably what we should have done since we all agreed we spent way too much time spending three nights in Ironbridge Gorge. The one site I wish we would have visited while in the area is the Royal Air Force Museum in Cosford but we ran out of town and were tired of all the walking.
After our stay in Ironbridge Gorge, we left for the Cotswolds at Stow-on-the-Wold. We had visited this quaint village once before on our 1999 trip and decided we would return since we also wanted to visit Kenilworth Castle, Warwick, and Blenheim Palace. We stayed at the Old Stocks Hotel in the center of the village and walked to several nearby pubs for some fine ale and nearby restaurants for our dinners. The Old Stocks Hotel was a fine place to stay and everything went smoothly. We only stayed for two nights (wish we would have cut the visit to Ironbridge Gorge shorter) but still got to see several other nearby villages.
Kenilworth Castle - We ended up spending a lot more time at Kenilworth Castle since this is one of our favorites and the last time we saw it, it was raining. The rain actually made the ruins look quite different since they are constructed of a red sandstone and looked even more red. This visit was more enjoyable since we didn't have to contend with the rain. The site was granted to Geoffrey de Clinton by Henry I in the early 1100s. The present, rather large, keep occupies the site of the original mound. Geoffrey divided the land in two with one part for his castle and hunting grounds and the other as an Augustinian priory. The river running through it was diverted such that a large lake was formed known as the "Mere" where gala events would occur during the castle's more famous times. A rebellion occurred in the 1170s and Kenilworth became a property of the Crown where it was repaired and improved. Henry III gave the castle to Simon de Montfort in 1253 who added more fortifications and enhancements. Eventually the castle was involved in yet another rebellion resulting in Henry overseeing siege operations that ended when a food shortage forced the rebels in the castle to relent. Henry gave the castle to his son and after leaving the Crown and returning yet again, the castle ended up going to John of Gaunt. The castle became even more luxurious with upgrades and eventually passed on to Henry V and later to Henry VIII. Castles require a lot of upkeep, and the Crown spent quite a bit of money ensuring this castle was one of the finest in the land. In the mid-1500s the castle was given to John Dudley who was the Duke of Northumberland. Things didn't work out too well for John who ended up on the wrong end of an execution and it was given to his son Robert Dudley who was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. Quite a bit of information is known regarding the Queen's visit with Robert Dudley at Kenilworth including all the hunting trips, fireworks, and regal parties held on a grand scale. Queen Elizabeth I would have probably married Robert Dudley except for one small problem - he was married to someone else. Eventually, Robert Dudley died and the castle once again changed hands. Moving forward to the mid-1600s, the castle was occupied by the Parliament troops of Charles I during the Civil War and ended up having one wall of the Keep destroyed and the Mere lake drained. I think the Kenilworth Castle ruins definitely warrant a visit by anyone interested in castles that played a major part in historical events of England. Such a beautiful castle!
Stratford Upon Avon - We decided to stop by Stratford Upon Avon to view the birthplace of Shakespeare since we were in the area. We took a short bus tour that lasted about an hour and then spent about an hour touring Shakespeare's rather small home. Kind of touristy with lots of people roaming around, but worth the visit if you are in the area. From here, we drove to Stow-on-the-Wold to check in at our hotel - The Old Stocks Hotel.
Blenheim Palace - We spent so much time at Kenilworth that we decided to skip Warwick since we've seen it several times. After spending the evening in Stow, we took a leisurely drive the next day through several Cotswolds villages and headed to Woodstock to see Blenheim Palace - the birthplace of Winston Churchill. Now this is a palace and one you won't want to miss while in England! There is a lot of fine art and the palace tour is a great way to learn more about not only Winston Churchill, but also the history of the palace that was built in the 1700s. The name derives from a great battle along the Danube near a village named Blindheim where the French leader Marshall Tallard made the big mistake of engaging John Churchill. John Churchill along with others won a great victory over the forces of Louis XIV that saved Europe from the domination by the French. Queen Anne gave land in Woodstock to John Churchill and paid for the construction of the palace for defending Holland and Austria from the French invasion. Accounts of the great battle are quite interesting and illustrate how arrogance and poor battlefield plans can go awry. Well, at least for the French, anyway.Return To London
We finished our trip with a ride on the Underground (the Tube) to Westminster Abbey where we took a short tour and attended the beautiful Evensong. We also toured the Charles Dickens House which is within blocks of where we stay each year while in London. It's odd we never knew this since we are all huge fans of Charles Dickens. When touring his house, I came upon a letter he sent a clock repairman regarding the clock in his house. It reads like this:
My Dear Sir,
Not only was Charles Dickens one of the greatest authors of all time, but he has a very comical sense of humor as this letter shows. Nice little tour you may want to consider if staying in the Russell Square area. The British Museum is also close by.
I ended up driving about 1000 miles on this trip from London to Bath and surrounding areas, over to South Wales, then to Ironbridge Gorge, on to the Cotswolds, and back to London. It's kind of funny that as soon as I pick up the rental car and begin to drive, it's like I never left the place. Driving on the other side of the road with fast speeds on the main highways as well as the very narrow roads in the smaller towns and villages seems to fit me quite well. I have to admit, that I've had just about enough of the driving by the time I get back to London. We spent our last two nights in London although the first night was following the drive back from the Cotswolds which left us little time for anything else. The visit to Westminster Abbey and the wonderful Evensong was a fine way to close this trip.
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pictures you see were created by Steve Corley unless otherwise