England & Ireland - 2003
Intro - This is kind of a disclaimer notice that you find on the Europe trips we take each year since I often get email on this subject. You may notice that all of our trips to Europe seem to include a trip somewhere in the U.K. every year, and other times we add Ireland or France. There's a good reason for this. We have been traveling to the U.K. for years mostly due to the ease of getting a non-stop flight from Denver, Colorado to London, either at Heathrow or Gatwick (depending on the airline). We really have the travel down pretty well and always know what to expect. Some folks ask me why we keep going to the U.K. year after year and why we don't try somewhere else. The reason is that the U.K. has a long rich history that cannot be fully appreciated by going there once or twice for a week at a time. Our families are from England, Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, so for us, it is a way to reconnect with our heritage. I imagine that when it becomes somewhat boring we will probably stop going to the U.K., but I don't really see that occurring in this lifetime since there is so much to see and learn about these great countries. I've listed some of the trips over the years that we have made to the U.K. as well as a few trips to Ireland and France with the descriptions of what we saw and how we felt on each trip dating to the year of our vacation. You can read our impressions of the vacations as they changed over the years and possibly pick up some ideas for your vacation to these wonderful countries.
There were two trips to England in 2003. There was the family European trip we do every year, and there was the trip with Mikey and me in November of 2003. For the family vacation, we decided to take a trip again to Ireland as part of our yearly trip to Europe. Read below to find out more about these fun trips.
Welcome to our trip description of England as part of our European England and Ireland 2003 trip. Decided to spend a week in England again, but this time focusing more on Bath, Warwick, and the Cotswolds since we really hadn't been back to Bath since 1999 and it was on a day trip by coach. We left on June 5th and our trip began as usual with a day's recovery by riding around in an open-top double-decker bus on June 6th (a Friday). We use this approach to reduce the effects of jet lag and an easy way to get around London since the sight-seeing bus allows us to hop-on and hop-off when convenient. There is also a Thames river tour included as part of the package. We used the hop-on/hop-off bus to tour London yet again, but got off at the Tower of London to walk around from the outside, take a few pictures, and then get on the Thames River tour to take some pictures of the riverfront area. This is a relaxing way to see the city and walk when ready since we are quite tired from the 8 hour flight from Denver to London.
My Dopey Boss Causes Problems
Learned a B&B Location Lesson
Bath and Castle Combe
Later in the day we took a tour of Bath using the "Bizarre Bath" walking tour. This is a good walking tour late in the day with plenty of humor. We visited the ancient village of Castle Combe on our way out of Bath towards the Cotswolds. It's about a 12 mile drive northeast from Bath to this quaint village that is very picturesque. The houses look similar to those found in the Cotswolds, probably due to the wool history of this area of England, and are quite old. There really isn't a castle any more (some remnants up on the hill above town), but there is the Church of Castle Combe dating from the 1200s with an interesting cemetery, and a river known as "Bybrook" that was used at one time to power the Woolen mills. The church has had some restoration, and is still a nice site to visit. There is a tomb in in the church of a knight known as Walter de Dunstanville dating from 1270, in armor with his legs crossed at the knees which indicates that he fought in two crusades. There is also a lion at his feet that indicates he died in a battle. The "Combe" part of the name refers to the narrow valley where Castle Combe is located. It's a very wooded area, at least where the village center is located, and is quite peaceful. After taking some pictures and strolling around the village, we headed for our B&B in the Cotswolds.
Cotswolds - Mickleton
Mickleton is about 10 miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and 5 miles from Chipping Campden. The owners at Brymbo were very nice folks, and if staying for 3 nights, they will take you on a guided tour around the Cotswolds. We didn't stay for that long so we didn't get the tour, but there were others at the B&B that did, and they raved about it. I didn't know much about the area so I didn't know that our B&B was not within walking distance of a village where we could eat at restaurants and have some fine ale at a pub or two. It's located in a peaceful part of the countryside in a farming setting in a more modern home. We felt as though we were guests at someone's house while staying in bedrooms on the other end of the house. The folks that run it are quite nice, offering us lots of pamphlets, books, and advice on what to see while in the area. There is a pub within easy driving distance that has some of the best food I've had in England. It's called "The King's Arms" and not only served excellent food, but also had a variety of ales (watch out for Pig's Ear or Speckled Hen, these beers are potent - but good). Walking to the pub from the B&B would probably be a bit dangerous since there are no street lights and the road has almost no shoulder. So if you are a couple that wants to drink at the pub, someone gets to be the designated driver while the other one drinks.
We decided to visit Warwick and Kenilworth castles while home-based in Mickleton, since they aren't very far away. It was rainy at Kenilworth which made it hard to take good photos due to poor lighting conditions, but the castle is a beautiful ruin and well worth seeing. We will definitely go back to this castle again. Warwick castle is a major attraction, so you can never go wrong touring the castle and roaming the upper walls while taking pictures. The nearby Warwick cathedral is also very much worth a visit if you have enough time. On one of our days, we drove to Stratford-upon-Avon looking for a laundry since we needed to clean some clothes, but the only one in town (we were told this, can this be?) had hot water problems and was closed. We drove around the small town and eventually headed back to Mickleton where we walked around the church and a few streets waiting for the King's Arms to open.
I think the problem we ran in to while staying in Mickleton was that the experience was not what we expected and it threw us off. We were thinking it might by like Stow where you can walk around some shops, maybe eat and drink at a pub or two in the evening, and then go back to the B&B. Instead, it turned in to a driving experience where we had to drive to do anything. We ended up seeing the castles, but basically found ourselves waiting for our time to run out so we could move on to the next destination. I'd suggest that if you want to stay in one of the Cotswolds villages rather than on the outskirts in a more rural setting, you should probably look around Stow or Chipping Campden since there are quite a few places to stay that are within easy walking distance of restaurants and pubs. If you are looking for a centralized place to stay somewhere quiet, with very nice hosts and a good breakfast, and driving everywhere isn't an issue, Mickleton and the Brymbo B&B may fit you just fine.
Warwick and Kenilworth Castles
Kenilworth Castle, although in ruins, has one of the most interesting historical backgrounds of all the castles in England (the Tower of London is probably the most interesting). It was built in the early 1100s, and damaged quite a bit by the end of the 1600s when it was used on more than one occasion as a castle for uprisings, in particular the Civil War in the late 1600s. I think they got tired of the sieges that were necessary to get rid of dissidents and ended up draining the lake that was nearby and tearing down the castle walls. Probably the most famous person to occupy the castle was Robert Dudley who was a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I. The castle ruins have a reddish color to them that even in rain, is still beautiful to see. While surveying the site and the surrounding countryside, it isn't hard to imagine the former beauty of this important castle. I highly recommend seeing the Kenilworth Castle ruins. I have a few pictures of the castle ruins on my pictures page found in the links section at the top of this page. I also liked one of the pictures so much that I made a photo and have it framed in my Family Room.
This was our second trip to Ireland (visited the south again) and thought I would take the kids back to one of their favorite countries since they were a bit younger the last time we were there and I wasn't sure how much they remembered. We left for Dublin on June 12th and decided to stay at our old favorite - Abrae Court in Rathgar which is just outside of Dublin. We only spent one night before we headed through the Wicklow Mountains towards Cork staying in Waterford (one night), Kinsale (one night), Dingle (one night), Galway (two nights), and back to Dublin (two nights). After our looping return to Dublin covering nine days, we returned to London for a couple more nights before returning to the States.
Galway is a nice city, well worth the visit. They were having some band contests while we were there so the city was quite busy. It also has a large airport which competes with Dublin as an entry place to Ireland. We visited "the square" known as Eyre Square which dates back to the early 1700s. In 1965 they renamed the square to "Kennedy Memorial Park" in honor of President John F. Kennedy who visited the area shortly before his assassination in 1963. The streets are bustling with people and makes a great place to do people watching as well as window shopping. There are many lanes in Galway that date back to medieval times and the city now has lots of cafes, restaurants and craft shops that has renewed the vigor of this old city. We had no problem finding a good India restaurant for our evening meals.
Return to Dublin
We also made another visit to Trinity College to view the Book of Kells since it is quite interesting. The book was created about 800AD and has beautiful hand painted illustrations on nearly every page. They usually have two volumes on display - one showing the beautiful artwork, another showing script. They have fine exhibits and an interesting video showing book binding techniques. The old Library at Trinity College is also worth a visit. The library houses the largest collection of old books in Ireland, numbering about 4 million volumes located in 8 buildings. The tour of the main library is quite impressive and allows you to read some of the many books that are open for public viewing. You can't actually touch them of course, but you can read them under glass.
Our journey to Ireland came to an end, and it was time for us to prepare for returning to the States. We left for London on our final third day in Dublin, and spent a couple of days visiting some of our favorite haunts such as Westminster Abbey and trips along the Thames. Go here to see some of the many pictures we took while in Ireland (took a total of about 500 pictures although I'm only posting a few).
This time I decided to go with my cousin Mikey to show him around England and give him a whirlwind tour of places my family finds fun to visit when we go on our yearly trips. We couldn't go everywhere that my family and I visit, but we did hit some favorite places of mine such as York, Warwick, the Cotswolds, and Bath. We arrived at Gatwick on Delta Air Lines on a Saturday morning (left on a Friday from Denver to Atlanta and then on to London) and took the Gatwick Express to Victoria Station. From there we got a cab and went to the Bonnington Hotel for a couple night stay before heading off to York. We really weren't tired at all (probably because we flew first class and got some sleep on comfortable seats) so we decided to go to the British Museum that is only about three blocks from the Bonnington Hotel. Took a tour of the Museum and then headed for my favorite pub - The Swan where we downed a few pints and then went back to the room where we cleaned up and went to the local Indian restaurant where I like to eat. After eating we went back to the Swan and drank a few more good pints of beer and walked towards Russell Square where we visited a couple other pubs. This was over a period of 5 hours or so and we didn't get blasted or anything, just had some fun at the pubs shooting the breeze and drinking some good pints of English Ale.
Got on the hop-on hop-off buses and went to the Tower Of London the next day (Sunday) where it was windy, cold, and raining. Still got to see quite a bit and also went on a Thames river cruise followed by some rides on the Underground subway system. Eventually got back and you guessed it - we hit the pubs again.
Monday we decided to continue on the hop-on hop-off buses (turned out we waited around quite a bit) and after some dinking around we went to the Westminster Abbey. Ended up seeing some stuff but got to talking to a priest in the old part of the abbey and when finally trying to continue our tour, found out they were closing the rest of the Abbey since it was closing time. We scrambled to see some of the older areas but they were already closing the main doors. I started talking to another priest and told him that we really wanted to see Edward the first and that my blabbing about the history of the Abbey kept us from getting there on time. He looked around and said to follow him and he personally had us cross roped off areas, opened old doors, etc., and this time we actually got to go up the small stairs and right up to the area where the tomb of Edward the first is displayed. He mentioned that people over the centuries have put old coins through a crack in the tomb lid for luck and that the tomb is full of money. Uhhh, I did too. The area where he let us walk around is not open to the public and this was a rare treat to get up close and walk among the tombs that are there. It was finally time for us to get out of the area since we really weren't supposed to be there, so we headed back with him to the area where people queue up for the Evensong. I said what the heck, and we ended up getting in the line for the Evensong and since we were so close to the front of the line, we got seated in the main pews for the Evensong service. We were actually in the very back row against the wall where it is quite private. What a treat. We said the prayers and sang the songs along with everyone else and it was an adventure I will never forget. Got to hear the boys choir (just boys do the singing) and the acoustics in this great old church are unbelievable. Be sure and attend the Evensong if you can since this is truly a spectacular church with a very long history.
Tuesday we got the car and headed up to York where we stayed at the Feversham Lodge again with Yan. Mike and I walked in to town and went to the Hole In The Wall Pub where we got some good food. I went up to the bar and asked the bartender if he ever heard of the Hole In The Wall ghost picture that was taken by an American a few years back. He said yes, that it was quite a famous story there at the pub. I told him that I was the guy that took the picture and that the one thing I missed was our old friend Terry Moran since I hadn't seen him in years. He didn't know the name, but thought that he knew the guy that had repeated the ghost picture story. As we are eating our meal, the bartender came by and said that an old friend wanted to say Hi to me after we were through. It turned out to be Terry! As Mikey says, only Steve can travel that far away and go in to some obscure pub only to have a friend show up that wants to say Hi. What a small world.
We went in to downtown York the next day (Wednesday) and spent quite a while at the Railway Museum as well as the York Minster where Mike climbed to the very top while I spent a lot of time just milling around the Minster. This was the most relaxing time I have spent in the Minster and got to see every nook and cranny as well as a lot of the stained glass. It was a very fun time of year too since Christmas was only a few weeks away and they were putting up some Christmas decorations. Of course we had to close things out at the Hole In The Wall where we said goodbye to Terry and of course drank some more pints of beer.
We left on Thursday for the Cotswolds and Mikey got his turn at driving on the other side of the road. He drove pretty much all day on the trip and had it down just fine. We stopped on the way to Stoh at Warwick Castle so Mike could see this beautiful old fortification. There was hardly anyone there and pretty much had the place to ourselves. We left Warwick and found our way to Stoh where we stayed at the Old Stocks Hotel which turned out to be cheap and good too. Mike ended up dragging me to several pubs where we proceeded to down a "few" pints of good beer. We also ate at the Royalist Hotel which is now more of an upscale old hotel and has a great restaurant (actually two restaurants). Good food and good beer.
We left on Friday for Glastonbury where we saw the Glastonbury Abbey as well as the Chalice Well. We were the only people since there were no tourists while we were at both places. Then we drove towards Bath where we planned to stay at the Laura Place Hotel (across the bridge). How in the world I drove to that place is beyond me since it was dark and tons of traffic, but we made it fairly closely in to the right area of town. We called the proprietor and she gave me detailed directions on how to get to the B&B. We went to the local Indian restaurant that I like and then found our way to the Green Frog pub. Great beer again and we just sat in this rather small room and had a couple of pints. I really have to stop Mike from drinking so much beer on these trips but perhaps another time.
Saturday we went in to town and met up early with the Mad Max tour that took us to Avebury, Stonehenge, Lacock, and Castle Combe. It was unbelievably cold and windy at both Avebury and Stonehenge (I'm talking 40 mph winds with cold rain) but the weather got quite nice when we went to The George Inn in Lacock where we hung around and.... you guessed it - drank a couple pints of beer. Beautiful medieval village dating to the 1220s. Got back to Bath where we ate and of course had to say goodbye to the Green Frog pub. You can probably guess by now what we did there. Now we aren't drunks by any means. It's just that Mikey and I used to brew beer in the States and absolutely love the Ales in England so we both took advantage of the various kinds of beer that we could never find in the U.S. We really didn't drink too much since every morning we needed to be up early to eat the English Breakfasts at our B&Bs and we always had a full day ahead of us. Well, there was that one night in York that was kind of rough but we were always in bed by 11PM.
Sunday we decided to go to the Roman Baths where we spent a lot of time touring the Baths before driving back to London for our final night's stay before returning to Atlanta. Bath was quite crowded with Christmas booths set up all around the Roman Bath area. Lots of trinkets for sale and a very nice atmosphere. The trip back to London took about two hours and was pretty uneventful. By now I have it down when it comes to driving in and out of London and didn't make any wrong turns along the way. Worked out very smoothly. We dropped the car off at the Imperial Hotel outside the Hertz rental place and paid the usage tax for London that they now impose on rental cars.
We had to get up at 4:45AM to take our cab ride to Gatwick (long drive) and made it OK but almost felt sick due to no sleep the night before and having to get up so early. Our flight looked a little iffy but we got on the plane OK and headed for Atlanta where we split up with me going on to Denver and Mikey going home to Dallas. Turned out to be a wonderful trip and I can't wait to do it again except next time probably to Paris. Let Mikey see what it really feels like to be a tourist where they don't speak your language. Well they say they don't speak it anyway. Of course he has been to Moscow, but then again, they aren't the French now are they?
Be sure and check out our Europe November 2003 trip pictures.
Remember to check out my page on European trip advice to align expectations that you may have about traveling to Europe as well as ways to make your travel experience a little simpler. I keep the trip advice page updated every year since I use it myself in preparation for our yearly trips.