Tuesday, May 10, 2022—Thoughts on Bus Touring, the UK, and Flying Home

Visiting the UK and Ireland has been on our bucket list for some time. Regrettably this trip did not include Ireland, nor much of Scotland and Wales. When originally scheduled, our trip via CIE Tours was much more inclusive, and for a total of 28 days. And then, COVID struck, and it was postponed a couple of times, and then entirely cancelled, leaving us with few options since our sizable deposits were at risk, and since CIE Tours converted our plane tickets to cover the remaining costs, without our knowing! Fortunately, we chose the 10-day trip rather than two back to back lengthy tours. 

We were generally all smiles

Our tour manager, Harry Gray, was really good, as was the driver, Dennis. Other guides along the way were good as well. Dennis kept the bus clean and comfortable. The hotel accommodations were good, but not great. The food provided as part of the tour was good. We visited a large number of important places and saw enough castles to do us the rest of our lives. In fact, the tour kept us so busy that there was hardly time to rest at night before sleeping. We only stayed in two hotels for more than one night, meaning our luggage would have to be outside the room at 7 AM every day but two, in order for us to leave at 8 AM — a little too frantic for us. There were a few acceptable snafus, like the out-of-date Toot Bus tickets. But the tardiness of the pick-up driver from the airport to the hotel, and the total failure of our pick-up from the hotel to the airport to catch our plane home were unacceptable, causing unwanted and unnecessary stress. Neither of us have a desire to do a bus trip again, and we wouldn’t use CIE Tours again, either. We’ll stick to river and ocean cruises for international travel, and auto and RV trips for domestic travel.

On the road, again—via bus

There were many positive things about the UK. The people were genuine, friendly, and helpful. It is a “proper” society, and certainly not flamboyant like some places in the US. Dress was informal and casual, and there were no provocative pants, shorts, tops, etc. The food was good, and I liked the baked beans for breakfast every morning, though Kay did not. The “fried” eggs were from free range chickens, the sausages were less fat than we’re used to, and there is little to no artificial sweeteners available. We both liked the cream tea (tea with scones, jam, and butter cream); in fact we drank hot tea several times a day, but didn’t drink any diet sodas. The fish and chips were good, but we tired of them. We ate sufficiently that snacking was not necessary. We both liked the Guinness draft beer by the pint, and the gin and tonics were good as well. Surprisingly, Beefeaters gin was not available most places, while Bombay Sapphire seemed to be the preferred gin. We saw few obese people, perhaps because people in the UK seemed to walk everywhere. Prices were reasonable, though it did take some getting used to the pound sterling currency. Cash WAS NOT accepted in quite a few places. Credit cards were scanned by the user; we liked that.

On the negative side was the pollen; nearly everyone in our group coughed, sneezed, and gagged the whole time due to pollen; we did not expect that.

Our flights to and from the UK were on time. Before we flew home, the US required us to have a negative COVID test the day before traveling. That proved to be fairly easy as the English pharmacy accommodated us efficiently. On the flight over, the seat space was tight, especially for a big man like me. In fact, seat space seems to get smaller each time we fly, with little room to move. The flight home was definitely better than the flight over, perhaps to the quality and timeliness of their feeding us, and the fact that we were flight east to west. And, it seemed that the seats had a bit more room. The last few times we’ve flown internationally we ask ourselves afterward how much longer we can continue. We definitely think it’s time to upgrade seats for long flights should we take any more.

After 8-1/2 hours flying

And lastly, thank you Dan for picking us up at the Little Rock airport at 9:30 PM. We are very grateful.

Monday, May 9, 2022—London’s Top Attractions via Toot Bus

Sunday was “on our own” for independent sightseeing. CIE Tours provided each of us with a ticket for the Tootbus. We caught the “Underground” to Marble Arch, and after a brief walk caught the Tootbus. Regrettably, the ticket had expired 30 days ago; a CIE Tours faux pas! However, Tootbus gave us credit and we hopped onboard the open-top double-decker buses with a recorded commentary in English and several other languages which can be listened to with headphones.

Kay sightseeing from the Toot Bus

We “explored” London’s famous sites including the Marble Arch, Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, 10 Downing Street, the London Eye, the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, Horse Guards, Tower Bridge, and many more. 

Centrally located in London, the Coca Cola London Eye can be termed as the heart of the city. It rotates gracefully over the River Thames, opposite the Houses of the Parliament and Big Ben.

London Eye

A historically relevant 1000-year old World Heritage Site, Westminster Abbey in the City of Westminster is one of London’s most regal and noteworthy religious churches. Located along the western bank of the River Thames, it is known for having hosted coronations, weddings, and for being a burial site for the English and British monarchs back in the day.

Big Ben is the nickname for the great bell of the striking clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London, England, and the name is frequently extended to refer also to the clock and the clock tower.

Buckingham Palace is a London royal residence and the administrative headquarters of the monarch of the United Kingdom. Located in the City of Westminster, the palace is often at the center of state occasions and royal hospitality. Regrettably, we couldn’t get anywhere near the palace.

A central and prime location in the city, Trafalgar Square is located in the city of Westminster and is a public square with many cultural spaces, museums and galleries around the square. Distances to other places are measured from Trafalgar Square, which was initially designed by famous architect John Nash in the 1820s.

Tower Bridge is a combined bascule and suspension bridge in London, built between 1886 and 1894, designed by Horace Jones and engineered by John Wolfe Barry with the help of Henry Marc Brunel.  Tower Bridge is famous because it’s London’s most striking bridge thanks to its Neo-Gothic architecture and lifting central sections. When it opened, it was the most sophisticated bascule bridge in the world.

The heavily guarded 10 Downing Street, also known colloquially in the United Kingdom as Number 10, is the official residence and executive office of the First Lord of the Treasury, usually also the Primer Minister of the United Kingdom. Along with the adjoining Cabinet Office at 70 Whitehall, it is the headquarters of the governments of the United Kingdom.

Whitehall is a road and area in the City of Westminster, Central London. The road forms the first part of the road from Trafalgar Square to Chelsea. It is the main thoroughfare running south from Trafalgar Square towards Parliament Square. The street is recognized as the center of Parliament Square, thus the center of Government of the United Kingdom. It is lined with numerous departments and ministries, including Ministry of “Defence,” Horse Guards, and the Cabinet Office.

A couple other photos are shown below of our London sightseeing.

Sunday, May 8, 2022—London via Bus and Tower of London

The Tower of London, officially Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, which is separated from the eastern edge of the square mile of the City of London by the open space known as Tower Hill. It was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest. The White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name, was built by William the Conqueror in 1078 and was a resented symbol of oppression, inflicted upon London by the new ruling elite. The castle was also used as a prison from 1100 until 1952, although that was not its primary purpose. A grand palace early in its history, it served as a royal residence. As a whole, the Tower is a complex of several buildings set within two concentric rings of defensive walls and a moat. There were several phases of expansion, mainly under kings Richard I, Henry III, and Edward I in the 12th and 13th centuries. The general layout established by the late 13th century remains despite later activity on the site.

The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times, and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public record office, and best known as the home of the Crown Jewels of England (no photographs allowed) and a prison.

In the Middle Ages the Tower of London became a prison and place of execution for politically related crimes, with most captives being put to death on Tower Green or, outside the castle, in public on Tower Hill. Prisoners were generally brought in via the Traitor’s Gate, transported by barge along the Thames, and passing under London Bridge, where the heads of recently executed prisoners were displayed on spikes. Among those killed there were Sir Simon Burley, an adviser and tutor of Richard II; the statesman Edmund Dudley (1510); the humanist Sir Thomas More (1535); the second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn (1536); Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Lord Guildford Dudley (1554); and the 11th Lord Lovat, Simon Fraser (1747), who was a Scottish Jacobite leader. During World War I several spies were executed there by firing squad. Other notable inmates included Princess Elizabeth (later Elizabeth I), who was briefly imprisoned by Mary I for suspicion of conspiracy; the soldier and conspirator Guy Fawkes; the adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh; and Sir Roger Casement, who was arrested for treason during World War I. In 1483 the adolescent king Edward V and his younger brother were last seen in the Tower before their disappearance and probable murder (great show on PBS about their plight, Lucy Worsley Investigates, Princes in the Tower).

A military garrison is maintained within the Tower.

There is a resident governor, who occupies the 16th-century Queen’s House on Tower Green and is in charge of the yeoman warders, or “beefeaters,” as they are popularly called. They still wear a Tudor uniform and live within the Tower, and their responsibilities include guiding tours for the Tower’s two million to three million annual visitors.

Ravens with clipped wings are kept on the grounds by the yeoman ravenmaster; a tradition dating from the time of King Charles II (reigned 1660–85) states that, should the ravens leave the Tower, the fortification and the state would fall. By the Tower is Tower Bridge (1894), the only central-city bridge across the Thames below London Bridge. The fortress was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

Saturday, May 7, 2022—Part II, Stonehenge

From Bath, our travels took us through the English countryside with it slightly rolling hills, grazing sheep and cattle, and rape seed fields shining golden in the green landscape.

We arrived in Stonehenge about mid-afternoon. We were told to be underwhelmed: it was a bunch of big rocks in a field. However, we were quite impressed. The experience was amazing and interesting, and left us wanting to see more.

Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument in Wilshire, England. It consists of an outer ring of vertical sarsen standing stones, each about 13 feet high, seven feet wide, and weighing around 25 tons, topped by connecting horizontal lintel stones. Inside is a ring of smaller bluestones. Inside these are free-standing trilithons, two bulkier vertical Sarsens joined by one lintel. The following photos are from a complete walk around the ancient monument.

The whole monument, now ruinous, is aligned towards the sunrise on the summer solstice.

What is really intriguing is that Stonehenge is only one of many monuments in the complex, i.e. the stones are set within earthworks in the middle of the densest complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds. Stonehenge was the only one we visited.

Archaeologists believe that Stonehenge was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC. It is one of the most famous landmarks in the United Kingdom, if not the entire world. The site and its surroundings were added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986.

Saturday, May 7, 2022—Part 1, Cardiff and Bath

Before leaving Wales, the tour took us on a panoramic drive around Cardiff, and then a brief walk to see the principal areas and buildings. We then traveled back into England to Bath.

Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset, in the valley of the River Avon; it is best known for its Roman-built baths.

About 60 AD the Romans built baths and a temple at this ancient spot. However, the hot springs were known well before the Romans and were a sacred site for the local Celts.The Romans constructed a temple in AD 60–70, and a bathing complex was built up over the next 300 years. Roman engineers drove oak piles into the mud to provide stable foundations and surrounded the spring with an irregular stone chamber lined with lead. In the 2nd century, the spring was enclosed within a wooden barrel-vaulted structure. The Baths consisted of the caldarium (hot bath), tepidarium (warm bath), and frigidarium (cold bath). The town was later given defensive walls in the 3rd century. After the retreat of Roman authority in the first decade of the 5th century, the baths fell into disrepair. The baths were eventually lost as a result of rising water levels and silting, but were eventually rediscovered and modified on several occasions. In the 17th century, claims were again made for the curative properties of water from the springs, and Bath became famous as a spa town in the Georgian era. Georgian architecture, crafted from Bath stone, together with modern streets and squares laid out in the 18th century, made the city fashionable and attracted a growing population and wealth, and today the springs are housed in 18th-century architecture. Victorian expansion of the baths complex followed the neo-classical tradition. Victorian visitors drank the waters in the Grand Pump Room, a neo-classical salon which remains in use, both for taking the waters and for social functions.

With the arrival of Christianity, Bath Abbey was founded in the 7th century and became a religious center. England was widespread in support of Ukraine, and many buildings and residences maintained the Ukraine flag. The day we visited Bath Abbey, a college graduation was taking place, and people in England dress ups for graduation, i.e. coat and tie.

UNESCO added the City of Bath as a World Heritage site in 1987.

Friday, May 6, 2022—Ludlow, Tintern Abbey, and Cardiff

Liverpool was exciting for someone last night; it wasn’t one of us—either a lucky night or a bad one!

From Liverpool, we entered Wales from the north. And then, it was back in England as the tour bus traveled along the Welsh border in England’s Shropshire County, one of the country’s most unspoiled rural areas, with farms lined by an irregular grid of long green hedgerows. At nearly 1500 square miles, Shropshire is one of Britain’s least populated areas.

The spectacular Shropshire hills cover a quarter of the county and are designated an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To the west the English/Welsh border is castle country; under the Normans, it became heavily fortified, indicated by the number of Norman Castles still standing here today.

A brief stop for food and toilet breaks followed in the medieval town of Ludlow, built to support Ludlow Castle, now in ruins.

Ludlow is a thriving medieval market town and an architectural gem with a lively community feel, busy with events and festivals throughout the year. The historic town center and the 11th century Ludlow Castle are situated on a cliff above the River Teme and are surrounded by the beautiful countryside of south Shropshire and the Welsh Marches. This proved to be one of our favorite stops.

Leaving the county of Shropshire, we entered the county of Hereford, home of our Hereford cattle in the US. The drive through Hereford provided views of picturesque farms of cattle, sheep, and rape seed. South of Hereford, the tour followed the River Wye southward; in this area the River Wye separates England and Wales.

Next we drove through the Wales county side to Tintern Abbey.

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey was founded in 1131,but fell into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Its remains have been celebrated in poetry and painting from the 18th century onwards. In 1984, Cadw took over responsibility for managing the site.

From Tintern Abbey, the tour took us to Cardiff, the capital and largest city of Wales, for sightseeing and overnighting. Upon arriving, we were taken on a brief walking tour of the town center. Since it was Friday afternoon, the streets and sidewalks were filled with people scurrying from pubs to sidewalk cafes to shops and stores.

Next, we toured Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle

Cardiff Castle is a medieval castle and Victorian Gothic revival mansion located in the city center. The original castle was built in the late 11th century by Norman invaders on top of a 3rd-century Roman fort. The castle was commissioned either by William the Conqueror or by Robert Fitzhamon, and formed the heart of the medieval town of Cardiff.

Castle built on top of earlier ruins

Over the centuries and into the 1800s, much renovation, rebuilding, and remodeling occurred. In the mid-18th century, Cardiff Castle passed into the hands of the Stuart dynasty. During the first half of the 19th century the family became extremely wealthy as a result of the growth of the coal industry in Glamorgan. Consequently, the castle was remodeled in a Gothic revival style. The resulting interior designs are considered to be among “the most magnificent that the gothic revival ever achieved” and, at least to me, a bit out of place.  The grounds were re-landscaped and, following the discovery of the old Roman remains, reconstructed walls and a gatehouse in a Roman style were incorporated into the castle design as seen in the photographs. When the 4th Marquess died in 1947, the castle was given to the City of Cardiff (for tax purposes, of course). Today, the castle is run as a tourist attraction.

Thursday, May 5, 2022—The Lake District, Liverpool, and the Cavern Club

Departing Edinburgh early to avoid traffic, the tour took us east and south to Gretna Green for a final stop in Scotland for shopping and a bathroom break. Gretna Green is a village on the Scottish border that is world-famous as a romantic wedding destination. Because of its proximity to the border, it became a haven for young lovers following the 1754 Marriage Act introduced in England and Wales. You were forbidden to marry without your parents’ permission if you were under 21. So the young and in love began eloping to Scotland, where it was much easier to marry. 

Crossing into England, we entered the Lake District, best known as the home and inspiration of Beatrix Potter, famous author of children’s’ books, and for William Wordsworth and other Lake poets. Lakes, rolling farmland and pastures with their perfectly straight rock fences, grazing sheep and newborn lambs, and low colorful mountains comprised the picturesque countryside. Through the efforts of Beatrix Potter, the Lake District National Park was established in 1951 and covers an area of 912 square miles. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017. With 16 lakes and more than 150 high peaks—four over 3,000 feet—it is the most visited national park in the United Kingdom.

We stopped at the lovely village of Grasmere in Cumbria, England, in the centre of the Lake District, and named after its adjacent lake. It has links with the lake poets William and Dorothy Wordsworth; they lived in Grasmere for 14 years and called it “the loveliest spot that man hath ever found.”

Wordsworth headstone in Grasmere

Although gingerbread was brought to Europe by an Armenian monk in 992, Victorian cook Sarah Nelson invented Grasmere Gingerbread in 1854 in the English Lake District village from where it gets its name. It is a unique, spicy-sweet cross between a biscuit (cookie) and cake. The shop remains open and we received a short history and a sample. The aromas wafting through the air were awesome.

Our overnight stop was in Liverpool. Liverpool is a maritime city in northwest England, where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea. (Ferry Cross the Mersey, Gerry and the Pacemakers, 1965). A key trade and migration port from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, it’s also, famously, the hometown of The Beatles. A short walking tour of the docks followed our arrival (Kay went, I did not), and then the group headed off to the world-famous Cavern Club. The Beatles made their first appearance at the club on 9 February 1961. From 1961 to 1963 the Beatles made 292 appearances at the club, with their last occurring on 3 August 1963, a month after the band recorded “She Loves You” and just six months before the Beatles’ first trip to the U.S. The Cavern Club was the most publicized pop venue in the world. In the decades that followed the Beatles’ last appearance, a wide variety of popular acts appeared at the club, including, but not limited to The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Hollies, The Kinks, Elton John, Black Sabbath, Queen, The Who, and John Lee Hooker, Paul McCartney, Status Quo, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Oasis, Gerry & the Pacemakers, and more recently, Adele.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022—Edinburgh, Scotland

First, Edinburgh is pronounced (Edin burr a). Our morning began with a driving tour of New and Old Towns. New Town, complete with planned streets and elegant Georgian houses, is some 200 years old. Old Town is the name popularly given to the oldest part of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh. The area has preserved much of its medieval street plan and many Reformation-era buildings forming part of a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A walking tour of Edinburgh Castle followed. Edinburgh Castle is a historic castle standing on Castle Rock, a volcanic plug which has been occupied by humans since at least the Iron Age.

There has been a royal castle on the rock since the reign of David I in the 12th century or even before, and the site continued to be a royal residence until 1633. From the 15th century, the castle’s residential role declined, and by the 17th century it was principally used as military barracks with a large garrison. Its importance as a part of Scotland’s national heritage was recognized increasingly from the early 19th century onwards, and various restoration programs have been carried out over the past century and a half. Few of the present buildings pre-date the Lang Siege of the 16th century when the medieval defenses were largely destroyed by artillery bombardment. The most notable exceptions are St. Margaret’s Chapel from the early 12th century, which is regarded as the oldest building in Edinburgh, the Royal Palace, and the early 16th-century Great Hall, although the interiors have been much altered from the mid-Victorian period onwards. The castle also houses the Scottish regalia, known as the Honors of Scotla, and is the site of the Scottish National War Memorial and the National War Museum of Scotland. The British Army is still responsible for some parts of the castle, although its presence is now largely ceremonial and administrative. Some of the castle buildings house regimental museums which contribute to its presentation as a tourist attraction. The castle is Scotland’s most and the United Kingdom’s second most-visited paid tourist attraction, with over 2.2 million visitors in 2019.

We spent the afternoon independently wandering the “Royal Mile” The Royal Mile is a name coined in the early 20th century for the main street of the Old Town which runs on a downwards slope from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace and the ruined Holyrood Abbey.

Narrow alleyways (known as closes in Scotland), often no more than a few feet wide, lead steeply downhill to both north and south of the main spine which runs west to east.

After spending the day in Edinburgh, we enjoyed a group dinner (Kay and I had fresh salmon) followed by Scottish entertainment of bagpipe music and a short ceilidh (pronounced kay lee). We enjoyed several of those in the Maritimes a few years ago.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022–York and York Minster

After another English buffet breakfast at the hotel, we were led on a walking tour of York. (Kay has several ancestors buried in York).

York is a cathedral city with Roman origins at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Ross in North Yorkshire, England. It is the historic county town of Yorkshire, and one of 15 in England to have a Lord mayor, and one of two, with London’s, to have the added “The Right Honorable” title. A walled city in northeast England that founded by the ancient Romans, York is a walled city. The City Walls form a walkway on both sides of the River Ouse. Evidence of the ancient wall may be seen in the photos below.

The tour took us on York’s medieval streets, including the Shambles, one of the city’s narrowest alleyways.

Next, we toured gothic York Minster, York’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster, has medieval stained glass and 2 functioning bell towers. The original church was damaged in 1069 during William the Conqueror’s siege of the north, but the first Norman archbishop, Thomas of Bayeux, arriving in 1070, organized repairs. The Danes destroyed the church in 1075, but it was again rebuilt from 1080. The new structure was damaged by fire in 1137 but was soon repaired. The choir and crypt were remodeled in 1154, and a new chapel was built, all in the Norman style. Walter de Gray was made archbishop in 1215 and ordered the construction of a Gothic structure to rival Cantebury; building began in 1220. The north and south transepts were the first new structures; completed in the 1250s, both were built in the Early English Gothic style but had markedly different wall elevations. A substantial central tower was also completed, with a wooden spire. Building continued into the 15th century and declared complete and consecrated in 1472. Over the course of the next several hundred years until present, many preservation and restoration efforts were and continue to be undertaken. 

York Minster has medieval stained glass and 2 functioning bell towers. Among its many priceless artifacts, York Minster has the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the United Kingdom, with the earliest pieces dating from the late 12th century.

York Minster’s Great East Window, created in 1405-08, is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in Britain with over 300 glazed panels, and is one of the most ambitious windows ever to have been made in the Middle Ages.

Next, a brief stop was made in Heddon-on-the-Wall, a village in Northumberland, England, located on Hadrian’s Wall. Hadrian’s Wall is a former Roman defensive fortification begun in AD 122 in the reign of the emperor Hadrian. Built to guard the wild northern frontier (now Scotland) of the Roman Empire, Hadrian’s Wall was more than just a barricade; it was an occupied military zone of mile-castles, barracks, ramparts, forts and settlements sprawling almost 80 miles in length from the North Sea to the Irish Sea. Hadrian’s Wall is a World Heritage Site, one of 28 places in the United Kingdon granted this status by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for its outstanding, universal significance. 

From there, we stopped at nearby Three Tunnes Pub for a simple sandwich before proceeding to Bamburgh Castle.  

Bamburgh Castle is on the northeast coast of England, by the village of Banburgh in Northumberland. It is an imposing medieval fortress that is one of the largest inhabited castles in Britain.

The original fortress was destroyed by Vikings in 993, and the Normans later built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. After a revolt in 1095 supported by the castle’s owner, it became the property of the monarchs of England. Evidence of the ancient fortress can be seen in the walls and parts of the buildings shown below.

In the 17th century, financial difficulties led to the castle deteriorating, but it was partially restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was finally bought by the Victorian era industrialist William Armstrong, who completed its restoration. The rocky plateau upon which the castle sits affords great ocean views. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family and is open to the public.

We crossed into Scotland late in the afternoon, and overnighted at the Norton House on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

Monday, May 2, 2022—Blenheim Castle and Stratford-upon-Avon

We were up early to repack and place luggage outside the room, eat an early breakfast, and load on the bus for the short drive to Woodstock, Oxfordshire, and tour of Blenheim Palace and its grounds.

A bit to small for our tour

On the way, the scenic drive took us through the picturesque Cotswolds, passing through quaint towns and villages nestled among the rolling hills and valleys.

We arrived at Blenheim Palace, unknowing that this bank holiday, combined with jousting contests, would generate gigantic crowds. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the palace. A country house, Blenheim Palace is the seat of the Dukes of Marlborough and the only non-royal, non-episcopal country house in England to hold the title of palace. The palace, one of England’s largest houses, was built between 1705 and 1722, and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The palace was originally intended to be a reward to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marborough for his military triumphs against the French and Bavarians in the War of Spanish Succession, culminating in the Battle of Blenheim. The land was given as a gift, and construction began in 1705, with some financial support from Queen Anne. The palace was designed in the rare, and short-lived, English Baroque style, The project soon became the subject of political infighting, with the Crown cancelling further financial support in 1712. After some three years, construction was resumed. Following the palace’s completion, it became the home of the Churchill (later Spencer-Churchill) family for the next 300 years, and various members of the family have wrought changes to the interiors, park and gardens. At the end of the 19th century, the palace was saved from ruin by funds gained from the 9th Duke of Marborough’s marriage to American railroad heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt. It is unique in its combined use as a family home, mausoleum and national monument. The palace is notable as the birthplace and ancestral home of ir William Churchill.

From Blenheim Palace in Woodstock, Oxfordshire, the tour took us to Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford is situated on the River Avon, 91 miles north-west of London; the town is the southernmost point of the Arden area on the edge of the Cotswolds. The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as the birthplace and gravesite of playwright and poet William Shakespeare. The Royal Shakespeare Company resides in Stratford’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

We continued northward, overnighting in York.

Windsor to York