Days 6-8: Bath and its Environs

The next morning we woke early and had a lovely breakfast in the tea room of East Lee. The dining room is delightfully Victorian, quaint, and adorable. I decided to mix it up and had waffles that morning. The syrup they were served with was more honey-like than maple, so they were just a bit sweet for me, but overall everything was excellent. We had planned to spend an hour or so that morning visiting the Roman Painted House in Dover, which is a small museum where you can see the excavation of a small Roman-era domicile. Unfortunately, the site was closed for an undisclosed reason. So instead, we got an early start towards Canterbury.

The drive to Canterbury was not far and we ended up parking at the town car park just outside the city and taking the bus into the heart of the town. This method of traffic control is starting to be practiced or just about to be put into place in many towns across England, and it’s a great alternative to having to navigate the super small medieval streets with so many cars.

I really enjoyed what little we saw of downtown Canterbury and would love to return and spend more time there some day. For this trip, we concentrated mostly on just visiting the cathedral. Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury and has been attracting pilgrims and legends for hundreds of years. It holds the tombs of King Henry IV and St. Thomas a Becket.  The chapel in which St. Thomas a Becket was murdered in 1170 was so famous for its pilgrims in the Middle Ages that it was incorporated into a little-known novel you may not have heard of, something called The Canterbury Tales by someone named Geoffrey Chaucer? I kid, of course. I only remember reading this in high school and hating it, but I would never hold that against the town!

There are many interesting tombs and chapels to visit while there. Again the audio guide is complete and helpful in understanding the history of the church and the many interesting tidbits about the church and the people involved with it.  Below are a few photos from the cathedral.

Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral

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the ceiling of the nave

the ceiling of the nave

beautiful stonework

beautiful stonework

17th century graffiti

17th century graffiti

stone choir screen

stone choir screen

one of my favorite chapels, the Warrior Chapel, filled with 15th, 16th, and 17th century tombs

one of my favorite chapels, the Warrior Chapel, filled with 15th, 16th, and 17th century tombs

a cross and swords marking the spot where Thomas a Becket was stabbed to death

a cross and swords marking the spot where Thomas a Becket was stabbed to death

The Black Prince, Prince Edward (son of King Edward III and father of King Richard II)

The Black Prince, Prince Edward (son of King Edward III and father of King Richard II)

tomb of King Henry VI and his wife, Joan of Navarre

tomb of King Henry VI and his wife, Joan of Navarre

artifacts buried with the Black Prince

artifacts buried with the Black Prince

part of the church cloisters

part of the church cloisters

After grabbing a sandwich for the road, we headed back to the car park, picked up the car, and started out for the city of Bath.  Bath is located on the opposite side of England, but luckily, England is a small island so you can drive across it in just a few hours. We arrived in Bath in the early evening and found our B&B for the next couple of nights, Hill House. We really enjoyed our stay at Hill House. The owners are very accommodating and pleasant. Breakfast included everything you could ask for and our room was lovely. This was one of my favorite B&Bs that we stayed in this trip. We were on the top floor and had a great view of part of the city out the windows. I will say, I was surprised to learn just how hilly and how large Bath was. It’s sprawl is enormous, and it’s situated along rather steep hills in and around the city center. Having checked in, we headed out to do a little exploring and to find dinner. We ended up having a pleasant walk around the new town and seeing the Royal Crescent, a row of townhouses built in the 1700s.  For dinner, we wandered down a small street to find Rustico Bistro, a small Italian restaurant. Dinner was fabulous! As the place was owned and run by Italians, the food was just as good as we had in Italy. We shared a bottle of wine and dined al fresco while I enjoyed some buffalo mozzarella potato gnocchi. I don’t recall what the Husband had, but I do remember that he was super excited that there was housemade limoncello available. It just doesn’t get any better than that! After dinner, we took the long, uphill walk back to the B&B to rest up for a day of sightseeing in the area around Bath itself.

The following morning after a delicious breakfast where we chatted with an Australian couple ending their six-week tour of Britain (Americans need better vacation time, guys!), we headed off in the car to see  Glastonbury Abbey. The ruins of Glastonbury Abbey stand in the center of the sleepy town of Glastonbury in Somerset.  The Abbey church and its monastery were large and powerful from the time of their building in the middle ages., but like most religious sites, the area on which the Abbey was built had a much longer and storied history with the original Saxon church having been built there in the 8th century. The Abbey would later fall into ruin after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and stands today a shell of its former self and its lost grandeur. We visited several ruined abbeys, cathedrals, and churches on this trip, and this was truly one of my favorites. The air of this place was just filled with all of the mystery, legend, and history that this ground held. Just one of Glastonbury’s claims to fame is being the burial place of King Arthur (of Round Table, Guinevere, and Grail lore fame). The area is a large park and you can visit what has been excavated and what still stands of the church itself along with the buildings where the abbot and monks lived and worked. Seeing what remains of the site is moving and leaves you with just a small piece of what this once great abbey must have looked like when it stood mighty and proud. Below are a few pictures from the area.

a tree that, according to legend, was grown from one of the thorns on Jesus's crown of thorns

a tree that, according to legend, was grown from one of the thorns on Jesus’s crown of thorns

ruins of the abbey

ruins of the abbey

ruins of part of the monastery

ruins of part of the monastery

Husband chilling in the apse of the church

Husband chilling in the apse of the church

taken from the back of the church, looking down the nave

taken from the back of the church, looking down the nave

the original altar

the original altar

King Arthur's grave

King Arthur’s grave

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With Glastonbury done, we headed off next to the small town of Salisbury to see the cathedral, home to England’s tallest spire (which can be climbed from the inside, ask me how I know). I had visited Salisbury Cathedral years ago on our school trip as part of our Salisbury/Stonehenge day trip, and when I saw that they give tower tours up the tower, I know the Husband would love to visit. Myself, I have issues with both heights and enclosed spaces, so these are not usually my thing, but I do try to do them from time to time for the experience and views. The Cathedral is worth a visit if you are in the area and if you don’t have a problem with heights, I do recommend the tower tour as it is both informative and you do get to walk all the way down the nave of the church, above the ceiling, so there’s that. Fun fact: the cathedral does contain the world’s oldest working modern clock, ticking away since 1386. Below are a few pics from the Cathedral.

 

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

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I love stone effigies.

I love stone effigies.

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looking down the nave from the first stop on the tower tour

looking down the nave from the first stop on the tower tour

the next stop on the tower tour, over looking the cathedral ceilings

the next stop on the tower tour, over looking the cathedral ceilings

measures taken to hold the tower together and keep it from collapsing onto the church

measures taken to hold the tower together and keep it from collapsing onto the church

view from the top

view from the top

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After seeing the cathedral, we made our way across Salisbury Plain to perhaps the most famous prehistoric monument in the world, Stonehenge. The site is the proud new owner of a brand new visitors’ center, but not that much has really changed in the last 4,500 years. Many people are underwhelmed by Stonehenge, but I do think that it’s worth a visit when you’re in England. It’s just one of those sites that everyone should be able to say that they have seen!

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Checking Stonehenge off the list, we headed out to one last spot for the day, Avebury. I was very interested in visiting Avebury which is basically another Stonehenge, but less touristy. It’s about the same age as Stonehenge, but much larger, containing the largest stone circle in Europe. And you can walk amongst the stones, which is something you can’t do at Stonehenge anymore. Unfortunately, while Avebury’s visitor information claims the site is open until dusk, that isn’t true and we only got a cursory few glances as we drove by some of the area. This was disappointing, but something to be saved for the next trip! Despite that disappointing end to the day, we headed back to Bath and grabbed dinner at a local pub before heading off to bed.

After breakfast the following morning, we headed into Bath’s center to see some of the city’s attractions. The historic area is very compact and also extremely crowded during the daylight hours. We started with a brief trip to Bath Abbey. I was slightly underwhelmed with Bath Abbey in both its size and decor, but the Husband did climb the tower there and seemed to enjoy doing that. While he was climbing the tower, I headed out into the town square to listen to some musicians and wander through a few shops. Once he had finished up, we headed just across the street to the Roman Baths, one of the best preserved Roman-era sites in Britain. The bath ruins really are quite extensive and worth a visit while in the area. Be forewarned, however, that it’s a popular site and thus incredibly crowded. Once we had toured the baths, we grabbed some pizza from The Real Italian Pizza Company and some gelato from its sister cafe, The Real Italian Ice Cream Company. Both were delicious. One nice thing about England? It’s close enough to continental Europe to attract Italian immigrants who run great restaurants! Fueled for more adventures, we collected our car and headed out towards the Cotswolds. Stay tuned to hear more about our adventures walking with sheep and sleeping above taverns!

 

part of The Royal Crescent

part of The Royal Crescent

Bath Abbey

Bath Abbey

some stained glass at the abbey

some stained glass at the abbey

looking down the nave from the front altar area

looking down the nave from the front altar area

view of Bath from the top of the tower

view of Bath from the top of the tower

overlooking the Roman baths

overlooking the Roman baths

the abbey

the abbey

Roman bath complex

Roman bath complex

the stacked tiles were used by the Romans to allow steam heat to flow and heat the floors of the complex

the stacked tiles were used by the Romans to allow steam heat to flow and heat the floors of the complex

difficult to see, but one of the indoor swimming pools

difficult to see, but one of the indoor swimming pools

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Days 4 and 5: Getting Out of the City

By Sunday, we were ready to get a little further afield from London proper. And there’s no better way to have a break from the capital than to act like royalty yourself and head to an old royal palace. So, Sunday morning, we hoped National Rail and headed out to Hampton Court Palace, once home to Henry VIII after he, shall we say, acquired it from Cardinal Wolsey. I loved, loved, loved HCP, and it was easily one of my favorite places in England. The palace is large, but there is an excellent audio guide that breaks it down into sections for visiting. There were actually four or five separate tours to follow, each giving you a different perspective of a different part of the palace or a different time period. It was great to see how it all melded together. Also, the gardens at HCP are lovely and worth a visit as well. If it had been a bit cooler, I would have spent even more time wandering through the outside. The rose garden smelled incredible and was one of my favorite parts. There is also a maze you can do in the gardens, but we chose not to spend extra time getting lost this trip!

Below are just a few pictures inside and out.

Inner Court in the Georgian Apartment area

Inner Court in the Georgian Apartment area

Taken from the gardens, the facade of the new construction under William and Mary

Taken from the gardens, the facade of the new construction under William and Mary

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one of the garden subsections

one of the garden subsections

The Great Vine, the largest grape vine in the world, was planted in 1769.

The Great Vine, the largest grape vine in the world, was planted in 1769.

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One of the Georgian bedrooms. HCP is home to England's largest collection of royal beds.

One of the Georgian bedrooms. HCP is home to England’s largest collection of royal beds.

Another royal bed chamber, although these were mostly for show. The bedrooms that the monarchs actually slept in weren't very elaborate.

Another royal bed chamber, although these were mostly for show. The bedrooms that the monarchs actually slept in weren’t very elaborate.

Henry VIII's great hall

Henry VIII’s great hall

where Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife

where Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife

These fireplaces were huge! You (and several of your closest friends) could fit inside. And there were quite a few of these in the kitchen area, demonstrating just how much food was prepared in the kitchens on the daily.

These fireplaces were huge! You (and several of your closest friends) could fit inside. And there were quite a few of these in the kitchen area, demonstrating just how much food was prepared in the kitchens on the daily.

One of the prep rooms in the kitchen. Peacock, delicious! (I guess...)

One of the prep rooms in the kitchen. Peacock, delicious! (I guess…)

Henry VIII's wine cellar. You know I had to have this picture. It smelled amazing in there, by the way!

Henry VIII’s wine cellar. You know I had to have this picture. It smelled amazing in there, by the way!

William and Mary's throne room

William and Mary’s throne room

the main entrance to the castle

the main entrance to the castle

 

The trip to Hampton Court was a full day activity. And really, I could have stayed longer! But after a fun (and exhausting) day, we headed back into London for the night before beginning the actual road trip part of our vacation the following day.

That next day, we were up early to make our way to London City Airport where we picked up our rental car (a Nissan this time, not an awesome Fiat like we had in Ireland). Having the car all loaded up, we worked our way out of the city. I managed to successfully navigate between Garmin, maps, and Google for most of the trip while my wonderful husband did all the driving on the wrong side of the road.

Our first stop out of London, was the city of Dover. Most people seem to only visit Dover as they are making their way to France or just arriving from France. The Husband, however, was interested in seeing the cliffs and secret war tunnels at Dover Castle, so we elected to stay the night and enjoy the city.  Dover is absolutely lovely. It’s a tiny coastal town with plenty of charm. Our hosts at East Lee Guesthouse were wonderful and offered plenty of recommendations on where to eat and what to see. On our way into the city, we stopped at Dover Castle to visit the remains of the medieval castle of Henry II. I really enjoyed climbing the Great Tower and exploring the exhibits describing life for those in twelfth century. We also spent time exploring the medieval tunnels running under the castle complex. Then we took tours down into the wartime tunnels used during World War II when England feared possible invasions from the continent. There was a really interesting exhibit in the tunnels about operation Dynamo and the evacuation of Dunkirk (France), which I didn’t have much knowledge about beforehand. It was very moving to see and hear the recollections of those involved with the operation.

 

the view of Dover from the top of the Great Tower

the view of Dover from the top of the Great Tower

the Great Tower

the Great Tower

 

one of the gates to the central castle

one of the gates to the central castle

After seeing the castle, we walked out onto Prince of Wales Pier, which is insanely long. From there we got some great views of the castle and cliffs, and of fisherman catching that night’s dinner! After hanging out there for a bit it was time for dinner downtown at Blakes of Dover where I did have local fish, although not Dover Sole, which I did strongly consider and slightly regret not getting. I mean, when you’re in Dover, you should eat Dover Sole, right?  The food was good but the restaurant was insanely hot. I will say that I developed a love affair with both banoffee pie and sticky toffee pudding on this trip. At this restaurant, however, I strayed and had an orange chocolate pudding- and it was incredible. I just love English desserts! After dinner, it was time to head back to the B&B for a restful night to get ready for crossing the country the following morning!

The cliffs really are white!

The cliffs really are white!

No, really, they are!

No, really, they are!

Entrance to the harbor, France on the horizon

Entrance to the harbor, France on the horizon

Dover Castle atop the cliffs

Dover Castle atop the cliffs