Getting Around England

Going into my trip I was a little worried about getting around England. Which I admit is a little silly since most people there speak English, as I do, thus getting lost and needing to ask for help is significantly less of an issue. But evidently logic was not at play, and I was nervous all the same. We chose to not rent a car, and it turns out getting around England without a car is incredibly easy to do. Driving We chose not to drive the entire week we were in England. And if you are planning on doing so then that is awesome, you are braver then me. England is one of the few countries in the world that drives on the opposite side of the road (compared to the USA and all other European nations). So I chickened out and decided to do an immense amout of research to make sure we could get to where we wanted to go without trying to handle a car that operates directly opposite of what I am used to. Hired Tour We did however choose to ride along with a couple other intrepid travelers on a tour of the Cotswolds. I am not always the biggest fan of tours, often times they shuffle you around to large touristy places and never give you the chance to properly explore. But in light of not want to drive and there being no other public transportation option through the Costwolds we found a tour and wound up thoroughly enjoying ourselves. If you find yourself in a similar situation don’t discount the option. While it might not be your number of favorite way to get around, it can be nice to take a break from having to mange the entire day. Just sit back, relax and let someone else do all the work for you. Bus Buses are a very viable option for getting around, particularly when speaking of the express buses to and from the airport. When looking for ways to get from Heathrow to some towns across the country, all train options first put us on the underground to get to a train station and then often required switching trains mid way through the trip. One such route had us spending close to 6 hours getting from Heathrow to Bath. Rather the National Express provides somewhat direct bus lines from the airport right out to these smaller towns. We were out of the airport and disembarking in Bath in under two hours. Plus the buses are really very nice, with wifi to boot. Trains Trains are incredibly convenient in most places in Europe, at least in comparison to the US where they are mostly not even an option, unless of course you have a lot of time to spare and an endless supply of books to read while on board. One of my favorite things about trains that I discovered while we were there actually is that the ticket master can book you connections through his system. So we managed to get a single ticket that took us from Bath to Paddington Station to Kings Cross via the underground, then from Kings Cross all the way to Dover. Single ticket, all booked and times plotted out for you. And they even gave us enough time to get lost, which we didn’t because while it can be very intimidating to make exchanges at stations, everything is very well marked and easy to navigate through. Other added bonuses to traveling by train in England, they are quick, clean, they have food on board and wifi so you can keep in contact with your family or just post on social media about how cool the trains are. By Bike Biking is also a very great way to get around towns, or even get from town to town. Everywhere we visited had bikes for rent and even some of the places we stayed had bikes that could be used while staying there. Trains and buses also have rack options so that if you wanted to get from one town to another and then continue to explore by bike you could do so. Additionally a lot of the English Countryside has national trust trails specifically for biking and walking. Open fully tended paths ready and waiting for anyone willing to take a nice day trip with a picnic and even a bottle of wine out for a little explore. On Foot Lets not forget the cheapest method of getting around of all, on foot. While this might not be the most viable option when trying to cover a large distance in one day. It is a great way to explore a town. Slow travel is becoming more and more popular these days. A method of travel which doesn’t allow you to see all the big sights in a large area, but allows you to really experience a place as a true local. See the local shops, eat at the local restaurants, visit the local sights. Most people can walk about 8 miles over the course of a day without feeling it. So get out there and use those feet! Also don’t forget about trekking trips. I took one last summer in Ireland and it was one of my favorite trips of all times. England has loads of similar options like walking the Cotswolds Way. This allows you to really get off the main path and see some really incredible things that would be missed if you are busily popping from big tourist attraction to the next. You get to see locals, farms, country side and really connect back with nature. Added bonus, a lot of these trekking tours go from inn to inn so you don’t have to get THAT cozy with nature if you didn’t want to. In summary, getting around England is incredibly easy to do. And it is often easier without a car as you don’t have to worry about parking, gas or you know driving on the other side of the road. You can relax during the getting there phase of your trip and often stay connected or even plan the next stages of your trip. Public transport options also add an air of adventure and excitement, and of course it is much easier on the environment overall.
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Walking the White Cliffs of Dover

As I mentioned last week a lot of people seemed confused about why we wanted to visit Dover. The main one was to see the Dover Castle and the other was to see the White Cliffs of Dover and hopefully walk around on them.  Spoiler alert: we loved both and while walking the White Cliffs of Dover we even found things in the area that we want to come back to experience at a later date.   Dover Castle Dover Castle sits on the easter hill of the city of Dover, right above the port docks. It is allegedly the largest castle in England, shockingly untouched by cross channel shelling and blitz bombing. We were told this was actually because of the presence of a certain abdicated king at the castle during the raids and his relationship with the Nazis, but that could just be rumor. Either way its a fun rumor.   There is evidence that there was a castle structure here dating back to the Iron Age or even earlier. Then when the Roman’s invaded England they built light houses on the site to help their armies find safe harbor. The site continued to play a role in shaping England’s history through the Saxon and Norman conquests. Henry II was responsible for the shape of the castle one sees today, though more modern buildings were also built up during the Napoleonic wars as well as WWI and WWII as the site was used for planning and communication as well as defense. You can see France from the castle walls after all, good place to stand to see your enemies crossing the channel.   Visiting the castle proved very interesting not just to us but to all manner of tour groups from France and Germany as well. You can tour not only the castle grounds but the tower built by Henry II, which at the time was the political center of England. The tower is built up in replicas to give everyone a feel for what it was like to live and work there. The place is massive and we got turned around more than once, but very cool to see. I could have stayed there all day. In some of the newer buildings there are interactive media displays explaining the history of the castle, what became of Henry and his two sons, which was actually the basis for the story of Robin Hood. Richard the good son was off to the crusades and left the country in the hands of John the slightly less qualified son who made a mess of things with France.   You can also tour some more modern aspects of the castle including the war time tunnels which played a role in WWI and WWII, in particular the rescue at Dunkirk. The walls surrounding the castle are still equipped with some guns from the wars, which you can walk around and get a closer look at. There is also a diner in the old mess hall which has excellent food and tea. Which makes the perfect afternoon stop, especially since the castle is so big it can literally take you all day to see everything.     White Cliffs of Dover Walk We only spent about half the day at the castle, because we knew we wanted to see the White Cliffs of Dover. Our inn owner had told us that you can talk from Dover to the next town down the coast, St. Margret’s Bay which is where Ian Flemming lived and wrote some of the James Bond novels. He also told us that there was a regular bus from St. Margret’s Bay back to Dover. So wet set off, after a delicious lunch at the castle cafeteria to see if we would actually find where to get onto the cliffs.  When we left the castle gates on a whim we decided to descend down a long flight of stairs that look as though it may take us in the right direction. And to our delight it opened up onto a very cute part of Dover next to yet another bombed out church. This church was St. James Church, originally a Norman building built in the 11th century. It was badly damaged during WWII and was set to a ‘tidy ruin’ and left as a nice little park space.    At St. James we turned left, hoping we would come across a view of the cliffs and we were again not disappointed. We found a lovely little row of colorful houses tucked up against the cliffs which the castle sat on. We could even see one of the platforms that we had been on earlier when we exited one of the tours. We kept on this path and eventually there was a small sign indicating we should follow the sidewalk to the left and hug the cliffs. Which makes sense since there was little where else to go unless you were a large truck headed to the port.  We continued climbing and hoping we were on the right path. We knew we were headed the right direction but there was little evidence that we would actually get up on the cliffs at some point. But our gamble paid off and before long we were up on the cliffs walking along in the sunshine. I think for both of us this was the highlight of the trip. We couldn’t have asked for better weather, you could see all the way across the channel to France and there were hardly any people about. We chose to trust our inn owner and walk to the next town, we figured if nothing else we could find someone to call us a cab.    The White Cliffs of Dover are often mentioned in movies and novels of war, or hardships. They are called out as the symbol of returning home and you can see why when you see them in person. The massive chalk cliffs are so bright against the green hills and bright blue water that they stand out like a beacon, if we could see the low lands of France from where we stood I can only imagine how bright those cliffs were when looking at them across the water. I should warn anyone thinking of taking this excursion that we were not really properly prepared, and even though it is an incredibly easy walk, it would be best to be fully prepared with proper gear, snacks and water.    That being said despite not being fully prepared nor having any real sense of where we were going we continued on. We reached St. Margret’s’ Bay in what seemed like very little time but was really a couple hours. And I may have panicked a bit. I was thinking a large open town, but rather it was full of trees and tight winding streets, luckily about the time my panic set in with regard to how to find the bus station The Pines Garden Tea Room popped up in our path and I jumped at the chance to ask for directions. I asked the nice women at the counter and then a kindly voice behind me said “we will run you up there if you would just sit a moment and have tea with us”. Alan and his wife (we call her Mrs. Alan because we regretfully forgot her name), had no reason what so ever to offer to offer two strangers a ride but did so all the same. We sat with them a while as they told us about their lives in the area and working, then retiring from the port. They told us about stealing rocks from the beach to build an extension on their home. They told us about their kids, and their dog that they recently lost. And then they drove us to the bus station the whole time apologizing that they couldn’t run us all the way to Dover, but their son was due any minuet from out of town. We were a little sad to see them go, and I regret not having a business card on me to stay in touch.    The bus did eventually come but I wouldn’t call once an hour ‘often’. So if you plan to walk and ride back as we did I would suggest checking the schedule before hand. It is 4 pound 50 to ride back, they only take exact change. But it is a really nice ride and drops you straight back in central Dover. Looking back our full day in Dover both Dover Castle and Walking the White Cliffs of Dover were probably the highlight of the trip, even though everyone we told about our plans to visit thought we were crazy. Sometimes the most unexpected and least assuming parts of your journey can be the best.   
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Dover England

Dover England was not the place I expected, it was both much worse and much more amazing than I was imagining. And even though every person who had been to Dover and who I had told I was headed to Dover exclaimed “Why on earth would you go there”, I am so glad we did in fact go there and I would actually go again. Dover is situated on the South Eastern shore of England and it is the point closest to mainland Europe. As such it has been a major port for most of England’s history and continues to be today. The main industry in the area is obviously the port and all the jobs associated with shipping, receiving and maintain the massive ferry port which bring both people and goods from Europe by way of Calais France. Despite the fact that it got heavily shelled from cross channel guns during WWII, it has some of the oldest complete buildings in the country. Including some excellent examples of early Norman and Tudor buildings. As well as a museum dedicated to a painted roman house that was unearthed in the area. As a large communication center for many wars there are a number of memorials and museums dedicated to its military history which is ultimately why we were there. That and we wanted to watch the boats come and go from the port. Dover sadly has a fairly high crime rate, though I don’t think this should deter people particularly interested in the unique sights of the area. The majority of the crime stats are sadly related to domestic violence, which sort of goes hand in hand with such an incredibly economically depressed area. The entire high street was boarded up and the streets were full of people on the down and out. Including several large groups lining up for soup kitchens from local churches. And even despite all this you can find numerous articles online talking about how much people love living in Dover and doing everything they can to turn the community around. We would later learn that the port manager changed in recent years and the first money saving action was to lay off all full time employees and only hire contractors, which normally come into town for work rather than live in the area. Leaving most people without jobs. That being said we were there for two days and had no issues. Our hotel manager was such a gem, he actually drove us around a bit because it was raining and we had about a mile to walk to Dover Castle which is what we were planning on touring while there. We had stellar food at The Allotment an art deco cafe serving up surprisingly fresh and healthy food. And had an absolute blast hiking the cliffs after touring the castle. I also really loved how international Dover England was, since it is only a couple hours via ferry across the channel the area was buzzing with German and French tours groups and hearing all the languages and sharing the local history with them felt very important, given in mostly cases the wars fought over the channel were England against one or both of them.
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6 Hours in Bristol England

We spent a good deal more than 6 hours in Bristol England, but the majority of our time was spent in the harbor which isn’t for everyone. This post will cover the things we did on the main land portion of Bristol, for those less interested in boats.
Brandon Hill and Cabot Tower
Brandon Hill was originally grazing lands for the Earl of Gloucester’s livestock, granted to him in 1174. Over the years the land was often used as a local meeting place and in 1843 30 thousand people gathered to watch the SS Great Britain leave port for America. Today is a really lovely park, the tallest location in Bristol it provides views of the entire city, and your vantage point can be improved by an additional 105 feet by the Cabot Tower which sits on the highest point of the park.
The red sandstone tower was built in the 1890s on the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s voyage to America. He made landfall in Newfoundland Canada a number of years prior to Christopher Columbus’ journey to Central America. Not much is known about his initial journey which is thought to  be the first European voyage to the American continent since the vikings. Other than it was before his second which was in 1497 and that Columbus references this initial voyage in letters of his own on his first voyage.

We had thought about climbing the town, but while I don’t mind heights I do mind places crowded with people. So instead we chose a nice sadly bench with a great view and bought ice cream from a truck that was perfectly situated as the first thing we saw when we created the hill. It was delicious.

In addition to views and delicious ice cream. The park also has a good number of walking trails which weaves around all sides of the park into different parts of town. We chose to follow a nice tree lined path and then followed a very impressive architecture tower in the hopes of finding out what it was.

Bristol Cathedral
The tower we were following turned out to the part of the University of Bristol, which is a very impressive grouping of buildings and includes Willis Memorial Tower attached to the facade of the Law School. Since school was in session we chose not to poke around the building and rather went down Park Street toward the water. We popped in a few shops on the way down the hill and then came across this beauty that is the Bristol Cathedral.

Like all churches in England built early enough, during the reformation they were stripped of all things making them Catholic and often fell to disrepair over the years. This church was handed over to the Church of England and was kept in relatively good condition. Having previously been  Catholic Cathedral it is quite large, and blissfully empty when we visited. If you are in the area you should definitely check it out. It is really impressive and really empty. They also have a cafe and gardens around back that looked really nice.

St Nicholas Market and St. Peters Church
Two things I knew I wanted to do in Bristol were to visit the St. Nicholas Market which is a very large outdoor market and the St. Peters Church which is right across the street. Unfortunately for me, while the St. Nicholas Market is open Monday through Saturday, it is evidently closed on holiday weekends so I did not get walk around as planned.

Rather we popped across the street to Castle Park which is home to St. Peters, one of the oldest churches in Bristol the foundation dates back to the 1100s. The building went through restorations over the years but sadly during the Bristol Blitz it was nearly destroyed. Today all openings to the church are understandably bared off but it does look as though a restoration organization is attempting to raise money to shore up the walls so the location can be used for other purposes, even though it would never have a roof again.
Temple Church
Our last stop in Bristol was not a planned stop but one we happened upon while heading back to the train station. A gorgeous little park that used to be the grave yard of the Knights Templar church that was build on the site of the church that stands today in 1130. The knights were suppressed by Henry the 8th and then finally bombed out again during the Bath Blitz. If we walk up to the side door you can peek inside and see the original circular church foundation which is very neat to see. Another charming fact about the church is that the tower leans at a 5 foot angle. Construction of the tower began in the 1390s and quickly started to lean, as such it was never fully completed as to the original plan.

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The Floating Harbor in Bristol England

The Floating Harbor in Bristol England is a really nice day out, and very family friendly. We had a couple locations in mind we wanted to visit but didn’t realize going in exactly how expansive the area was or how fascinating the history. The area has been important to humans and prehuman people since the Neolithic era. It was founded as a permanent settlement in 1000 the port was developed in the 11th century and continued to play an important role in England’s economy through the exploration and immigration to the America all the way up to today where it continues to play a role in a variety of economic industries. The name Floating Harbor comes from the lock system that allowed the tidal section of the Avon River to remain full and thus allow the large sailing ships afloat even at low tide. Sailing ships as apposed to steam powered ships have a terribly deep keel and were often made of wood at the time. So if a ship came to port in Bristol at the time and the tide went out, the keel would get stuck in the mud, the ship would tip, often snapping keep, mast or simply crush itself ruining both ship and shipment. MShed The harbor today is still very active though less in shipping capacity and more in a tourist capacity. The MShed is a free museum right on the water front that hosts a variety of exhibits, including a section of a hull of a boat painted by Banksy, allegedly of  the rather unpleasant harbor master at the time. The museam focuses on Bristol, providing information about the history of the area, the maritime traditions, people, life and places significant to the area. There are also a number of ships that one can tour right outside the doors of the museum. Banksy To various degrees it seems that it has been confirmed that the famous graffiti artist Banksy was raised in Bristol. Most of the earliest work attributed to the artists exists in the area and there is a walking tour outlined that can help show you around if you are interested in viewing all his works in the area. I most wanted to see the Girl with the Pearl Earring, so locating that particular site was my main focus. It can be difficult to find given it is down a short ally way and you don’t really see it until you are right on top of it. But find it we did and I was very happy to see it in person. SS Great Britain Another family friendly activity on the harbor is touring the SS Great Britain. The SS Great Britain was designed by Isambard Burnel who was very significant to the area and to Britian. He combined a number of modern ship building methods and wound up with the first every steam ship to cross the Atlantic to America, which it did in just 14 days. The area around the ship is set up as it would be at the time with fun faux shipping containers, food, animals and all sorts of other things that would have been packed aboard for the voyage. It looked very fun, but we were short on time so we decided to pass. Underfall Yard Underfall Yard was probably the highlight of our time in Bristol. It is a working boat yard that you can walk around, it is also home to the original hydraulic system that operated the lock system. We met a very nice volunteer with the yard named Richard who used to teach history and told us all about the area, the history of the hydraulic system, the harbor, Bristol and all sorts of other things. We probably sat with him for at least an hour and loved every minuet of it. We walked away with a backpack full of information, a tshirt and two buttons. It was a blast. We also spent a good deal of time sitting outside watching two young brothers, who must have been a part of a sailing club, fight, shout, shove and nearly knock one another into the water more than once. It does appear that there are a variety of boat rentals in the area from the aforementioned sailing lessons to a water taxi that can take you up and down the harbor for very little cost. For those less interest in boating type things, the yard also hosts a couple cafe’s with outdoor seating and a wonder view of the harbor. Swivel Bridge and Clifton Suspension Bridge Toward the end of the harbor near the locks are two bridges of a very different sort designed by the same man, Isambard Brunel. When he was 23 he was appointed the project engineer, it took 33 years to complete but the Clifton Suspension Bridge is quite the marvel. We didn’t have time to walk up and cross it but the gorge that it dares to span (especially given it was built in the 1800s) is massive. The Swivel bridge was built in 1844 and designed by the same man. It is a large hulking mass of wrought iron and not nearly as elegant as the suspension bridge but it is a technical masterpiece. It is in terrible disrepair and money has been pouring in to study, evaluate and repair it. I found it interesting that the bridges were being built around the same time, by the same man, to solve different problems and look so very different. It was very cool to see in person. We sat at the edge of the harbor and had some snacks while we plotted our next move. We knew we wanted to make our way up to a few locations on the mainland portion of the Bristol but it took some serious examination of the map to figure out a way over all the bridges and roads safely. We did eventually manage it and wound up popping back down on the other side of the Bristol Harbor more than once throughout the day. So if you enjoy maritime type activities I would highly suggest spending the day at the floating harbor in Bristol England.
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Touring the Cotswolds

Touring the Cotswolds was one of the more difficult aspects of trip planning for me. I very much wanted to see it, some of it at least. The area is 787 square miles of protected landscape. It was designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in 1966 and remains protected today, though it does appear that the areas are increasingly under threat of development. The area is largely undeveloped, mostly farms and small towns. But development does occur for example a new Dyson factory is set to move into the area, and many of the old air bases from WW2 are being sold off and converted into neighborhoods and various businesses. Needless to say given the low development rate over the years I knew I wanted to see it, old towns, old buildings, my usual interests. The difficulties in planning occurring around exactly how to get there. We didn’t really want to rent a car, screaming around country roads on the opposite side of the road is not exactly relaxing. There really aren’t public transit options and while I could have hiked it like I did in Ireland we didn’t have the time. Thus commenced the search for a tour. There were plenty out of London, so good news for any of you wanting to tour from a London home base. But I could only find a couple out of Bath.We wound up picking Lions Tours but as it turns out the other tour we were considering was owned by the ex wife of the owner of the company we did tour with. I can’t speak to the competition as it were, but I can say plenty of nice things about Lions Tours. Booking was super easy, finding the pickup location was easy, our driver/tour guide was on time and had so many great insights throughout the day we really couldn’t have had a better afternoon. Castle Combe The first stop on our tour was Castle Combe. The town is hardly larger than what you can see in the picture below. It has a pub, a church, and a large manor house that has been turned into a very swanky hotel (which was used in WW2 by the New Zealand Forestry Officers) as well as a motor racing circuit.  Compared to the other towns in the area, it is largely untouched by modern updates which makes it perfect for filming. Used as Puddleby-on-the-Marsh in Dr. Doolittle, thanks to some fancy movie magic the four inch deep stream was turned into an ocean port. It was also used for filming in War Horse, Stardust, Downton Abbey and numerous other television shows. The church is extraordinarily large given the size of the town tucked behind some houses across the street from the market cross, St. Andrews was built mostly in the 15th century by donations from wealthy wool merchants. It is also home to a faceless clock that was built around the 15th century and is likely the oldest clock in the country. Malmesbury Malmesbury was our second stop and a little bit bigger that Castle Combe. It is home to Malmesbury Abbey which was founded in 675. The area has seen it’s fair share of battles, given the age of the settlement it was actually the one of the most significant towns in England at the time of the Norman invasion and the first English King was buried in the area in 939. The main attraction to the area now is the Malmesbury Abbey, which was a significant pilgrimage site throughout history. The spire was actually seven meters higher than the one on the Salisbury Cathedral, but sometime in the 15th century the spire collapsed taking a large portion of the church with it. After the collapse the archway through the collapsed portion was bricked over and the remainder of the church remains today. Aside from the interesting history and architecture the church is also home to four illuminated bibles, the tomb of King Athelstan, and a grave stone denoting death by tiger. It also has a fabulous little cafe toward the back where you can get take-away or eat in coffee and sandwiches, I highly recommend the brie and cranberry. As well as a stained glass window by William Morris. Cirencester Cirencester was bigger still than Malmesbury. We didn’t have a lot of time there, we just ran a quick peek through the main high street and I popped into the extremely large church that was wedged in between houses and the town hall building. The town had a lot of activity during the early Roman and then again in the Tudor period. There are a good number of shops and restaurants here today as well as plenty of places to stay. But my favorite part was not surprisingly the church, that had an incredible wooden roof. You can actually smell the wood when you walk in. I have never seen anything like it. Bilbury Bilbury was on the smaller side, two main roads, an inn, a fish farm and a small market that also served food and ice cream. Once upon a time William Morris declared it the most beautiful city in England. It was another quick stop, but we did a quick loop down the river and up past Arlington Row a 1300s wool manufacturing building. We toured around and munched our sandwiches which we had picked up at the Malmesbury Abbey. Bourton on the Water Bourton on the Water is probably on every tour to the Cotswolds, and for good reason it is a gorgeous little town built up on both sides of Windrush River. It has a ton of things to do and see, loads of restaurants, and places to stay. But unfortunately because of all of these things it is also terribly popular and very commercialized. It was almost impossible to walk around, let alone get a picture of anything other than other people. I had to walk all the way to the end of town to get a decent shot and there are still loads of people in it. For this reason it wasn’t my favorite spot but it was really beautiful and I am glad I got to see it. Tetbury Tetbury was our last main stop, it was in its day a large market town especially for the wool and sheep trade. We only had about 15 min in town, and our tour driver really wanted to show us this staircase which was used by all merchants driving their sheep into town. It was pretty neat seeing it but more exciting to me at least was the house right next to it. A former Malt house is the location that Eisenhower allegedly met with Churchill to start planning the D-Day invasions during WW2. It is now the home to the Girl Guides in the area, so you cannot tour but there is a nice little plaque commemorating the location. Badminton Our last stop was not a planned stop, but we had a little extra time and our tour guide just couldn’t help himself. So we took a little detour onto the grounds of Badminton House. Like most manor house locations a large land owner was given lands for being in favor with a king, which was then farmed by tenets on the land. The lord of the manor would receive income from the tenet farmers and in return they would be protected by the wealthy family. In addition to the individuals working the farms, the large houses were staffed by hundreds of people and small towns on the grounds were created to house the individuals that worked up in the house. Badminton is one of the few privately owned manor houses left in England, inheritance taxes have managed to make private ownership terribly expensive and most people have sold the large homes or turned them into hotels, schools or in one case at least an amusement park of sorts. But this one for now at least is lived in by the family that allegedly invented the sport of badminton. We couldn’t get close enough to the main house to get a decent picture but I did take a picture of the house that belongs to the family that takes care of the dogs. I’d live there. Then again I would probably live in any of these charming towns, touring the Cotswolds was a dream come true.
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Eating in Bath, England

Eating in Bath England is easy to do, well lets be honest I tend to find eating anywhere easy to do! My point is Bath being a spa town, tourist attraction, weekend getaway sort of place and being home to 80,000 residents means there is a good number of great restaurants in the area. However, I was reticent going in. I had some bad experiences with English food in the past, and with the Heathrow airport if I am being honest. So I did have it in the back of my mind that I may not be very happy with the food when we go there. I could not have ben more wrong. We in no way had difficulty finding decent food. If anything I kept eating even though I wasn’t hungry just because there was so much great food to experience.  Seafoods The first place we tried was Seafoods. It was our first night, we had been traveling all day and the night before because getting to Europe from the West Coast of the USA takes an eternity. We had checked into our apartment and the hunger hit us. Need. Food. Now. And what else does one eat in England if not Fish and Chips. We searched a few places and because Bath is a bit fancy most of the places that come up were offering large fancy plates and a higher cost. We wanted authentic and local. So we picked the smaller and cheaper of our options and landed at Seafoods.  We wanted to sit outside and were told there was no table service outside. So we ordered the small of both fish and chips, we also ordered the traditional sauce and a garlic aioli from the counter and made our way outside. And then there was a bit of confusion. We were sort of forgotten about and 20 or so minutes later the women we ordered from came out and asked again what we ordered. We told her and 10 min later our food arrived but either she gave us the large on accident or in England small means something very different. It was so much food I could hardly eat half. But it was so delicious I ate way more than I really had room for.  Even though it was a Bank Holiday and the town was overrun with tourists the area and restaurant had a very local feel. Lots of folks milling about and ordering take away, sitting and eating in the park across the street from the other restaurants. And the ice cream shop next door must have been something else because the line never got below 15 people. We were both too full to try it after dinner but I will be forever curious exactly how good that ice cream must have been to warrant that kind of crowd, especially when it wasn’t the only ice cream shop close by.  The Raven Another quintessential English experience is eating in a pub. A local suggested The Raven. It a lovely little spot hidden away in a side street bustling with locals. Thus exactly what I wanted. It was clean and well kept with two bars, one on the ground floor which was extremely crowded and one on the first floor (or what we Americans would call the second floor). The bar tender at the ground floor shooed us upstairs because there wasn’t really any place to sit and I am oh so thankful he did. It was much quieter and the large windows offered a lovely amount of light and views of the streets below. In taverns and pubs in England there is usually not table service, you order at the bar and pay on the spot. I ordered two different kinds of pies, sauces and sides suggested by the bar tender because I had no idea where to start and shortly our food was delivered. I could rave about how good those pies are all day but I won’t. If you ever find yourself in the area just make sure you go and try them yourself. Chicken and ham pie, with mashed potatoes and sage sauce. Don’t question it, just order it. You can thank me later.  Patisserie Valerie Another English staple is the afternoon tea service. Though surprisingly this is relatively new tradition to the English people. The drinking of tea has been a part of English society for a very long time but it wasn’t until the seventh duchess of Bedford (Anna) that the idea of a light meal service between lunch and dinner was popularized. Among the landed gentry it was not uncommon for dinner to be served after eight pm, leaving a good long stretch in the day with no food. Thus the habit of afternoon tea complete with snacks was born.  There is no shortage of tea services in Bath. I have mentioned that the Pump Room which is associate with The Roman Baths offers a variety of services from just scones and tea all the way up to champagne service with a tray stacked with goodies. Emma from Gotta Keep Moving has a nice run down of the more popular places to take tea in Bath. If that is the sort of think you are looking for.  Operating as my truest self I of course opted for the least assuming location for an English tea service, a French patisserie. I will be honest the location, lack of line and low cost had nearly everything to do with the decision but it did not disappoint. Patisserie Valerie was established in 1926 and operates out of a art deco store front complete with original windows and glass vaulted ceiling in the main dinging area. It isn’t large, the service was a tad slow but the tea hit the spot and the tower of food was outstanding. It turned out to be so much food in fact we had to take all the desserts to go and ate them later that night in our apartment.  Cornish Pasties  Cornish Pasties probably seem like an odd drawn when not in Cornwall. But much to our delight there was a large density of Cornish Bakeries in Bath which meant we got to eat the foods of Cornwall even though we didn’t have time to visit it (this trip).  If you are unfamiliar with the tradition of the pasty. It is similar to a hand pie or empanada. A circle of short cut pastry is filled with uncooked meats, sauces and vegetable, folded in half, sealed and cooked to perfection. We visited a couple different locations, both claiming to be award winning and famous and all that. Both were excellent.  The first was the Cornish Bakehouse which has several locations across England. We ate here on more the one occasion, for one because it was great but it was also conveniently located on the way to the train station so it made for a quick stop on the way to where we were headed. They also had their pasties out of the oven sooner than other locations which didn’t hurt. I think my favorite meal of the entire trip was here, it was a surprising red chicken curry pasty that I am determined to recreate now that I am home. The other location we tried was The Cornish Bakery which also has a couple locations in Bath, one of which is right across from the Pump Room near the baths. We excited our apartment a tad too early on the day we left Bath and it had started raining so we chose to wait it out in the tiny little bakery. We had tea and a delicious carrot cake while we waited and then took a sandwich and sausage rolls to go. On second though the sausage rolls may have been the best thing I ate in England. I will probably change my mind again. It was all too good!
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The Roman Baths – Bath, England

The Roman Baths in Bath, England is both the town’s namesake and the main attraction in the city. There is archaeological evidence that the Celts used the area as a natural hot springs even before the Roman invasion. The Romans built the temple between 60-70AD and the baths you can see today were built over a period of 300 years after the original temple was built. The original baths are below the current street level, so what you see when walking around the city are dated from the 19th century.
I haven’t managed to find much about the bath complex during WW2, but over a weekend in April 1942 80 Luftwaffe flew over the city of Bath and bombed it. It is said that most people who saw them coming didn’t duck for cover thinking the planes were headed for near by Bristol. The bombing was the start of the Baedeker Blitz which was a reaction to the RAF bombing and destruction of the city of Lubeck. This resulted in 19,000 building being bombed in Bath alone, 1,100 being seriously damaged or entirely destroyed of which 218 were of architectural significance. St. Andrews church was entirely destroyed and is now a park. St. Johns was nearly destroyed but efforts to restore were completed in the 90s. The names of those lost to the bombing can be found at the War Memorial outside the gates of Victoria Park. 
Visiting the Roman Baths
The bath complex is a open air square with the Sacred Spring, Roman Temple, Roman Bath House and museum as well as the Pump Room which is a restaurant and tea room. There is also a gift shop that exits visitors on the main pedestrian street and can be accessed by non museum goers. We didn’t visit the baths themselves. I think had we been in town longer we would have, they look quite impressive. And I love a good historic site. But even being there off season the lines to get in were wrapped around the building and we wanted to see more of the town rather than spend half the day standing in line. If you wanted to go I would try getting there early and midweek if it can be helped.
You can visit the Pump Room without visiting the rest of the buildings and the restrooms in the building are open to the public, one of the only ones I found in the city. The Pump room offers a variety of tea services, which we were considering but we wound up choosing a different location due to price and crowds. But the building is gorgeous and if you want fancy tea in a fancy building with a great view you should really go here.
The other main attraction in this area and perhaps the most obvious is Bath Abbey. Early kings built on the religious site in the 700s. The site was fought over during the Norman Conquest. It was reorganized in the 10th century, rebuilt in the 12th century, dissolved from the Catholic church by Henry the 8th and restored in the 1860s. When I visited they were digging up the floors in sections for more restoration work to improve the in floor heating from the thermal waters in the area. Rumor has it they unearthed 8,000 bodies from the church floors, it should be noted it is an entirely normal practice historically for parishioners to be buried under church floors.
The building of the Bath Abbey that stands today is known for it’s historic significance and architecture, specifically the fan vaulting on the ceiling which was designed by Robert and William Vertue. The brothers designed a number of well know buildings including a similar ceiling in Westminster Abbey for Henry the 7th. Additionally the entire church is made of a butter yellow limestone that is unique to the area, most of the city of Bath and buildings in near by towns are built with the same stone.
If visiting the church is on your bucket list be sure to plan around religious holidays and check for hours. The church is still holding regular services and tourists are only allowed in during specific touring times. Obviously you could attend a service to get in, but the lines for the services are long and you wouldn’t have the freedom to wander the building or take pictures.

Secret Things To Do Near the Baths
Behind the Bath Abbey is the Parade Gardens a walled park on the river front. The parks were rebuilt in the 1930s on the grounds of 17th century pleasure gardens.  It costs to get in and it is cash only, but if its a nice day I would say the charge is well worth it. There are also food stands at the top of the gates before you go in so you could always buy a picnic and settle in for an afternoon rest.

To the left of the Parade Gardens over the River Avon is the Pultney Bridge which was built in 1774. It like the bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice has shops built into it and was a very popular shopping district in its day. Though it was still pretty crowded when we were there. There are both restaurants and shops on it now, one of which a quaint little map shop selling original historic maps. If I had enough money to afford such a think I would have bought one, they were gorgeous.
If you walk over the bridge you will notice a small stairway on the right hand-side after you pass over, this stairwell goes into and under the bridge depositing you on the other-side of the river where another lovely park sits along with restaurants with outdoor seating. This stairway is significantly harder to see coming from this side of the river, which is what we did. I thought we were walking into a restaurant kitchen rather than the bridge, though it wouldn’t be the first nor the last time I have accidentally wandered into a busy not public kitchen.

If you continue to walk away from the bridge along the river you see a wonderful view of the city that you wouldn’t get otherwise. This side of the river also hosts a small riverfront park, but rather than streets and cars there are a good number of restaurants offering outdoor seating. Continuing down river from the bridge you get an excellent view of down town Bath and a quite little restaurant on a long boat.

If you follow the river down to the next bridge and then turn east and wander up the hill you run into the most charming waterway and greenspace. It goes on for quite a ways in both directions but along this canal is a series of locks. I couldn’t find an exact date on the lock system. But they are a part of the larger system of locks connected to the Bristol Floating Harbor which was built in the 1800s and the Bath Locks have two bridges that date to the same time period.
They fell into disuse and then were restored in 1968 and are run today manually by volunteer labor via the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip. Watching the long boats come and go, and watching them manually (when I say manually I mean two young men physically move the winches that open and close the locks) manned was very impressive. The volunteers are all very nice and were happy to answer all of our questions.
The long boats that run up and down the canals can be rented for day use or overnight. We almost stayed on one, I think it would have been a hoot, but having seen them in person there wouldn’t have been a ton of privacy sitting up here on the canal. There is also a small restaurant and ice cream stand up near the top which would make a nice little rest stop should you need it.

Crossing the river at the last of the locks brings you back to the Bath Train Station and right near the aforementioned St. John’s church. The church  is near the bath complex sitting along the river, in fact if you walked the opposite side of the river you probably saw the back side of it just down river from the Pulteney Bridge. It isn’t as impressive as the Bath Abbey but it is still very impressive, especially compared to modern American churches.
My favorite thing about this location was the are stations around the inside walls describing the history of the church. I don’t see this a lot and was happy to read about the history in the location rather than later after I had toured it.  This church like most in England was originally Catholic but dissolved during Henry the 8ths reign. St. Johns was also nearly destroyed during the blitz and the signs do a nice job discussing the damage and restoration efforts which were extensive.

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Royal Crescent – Bath, England

Bath is a town in Somerset England, settled in the valley of the Avon (one of several) at the foothills of the Cotswolds. It was known to early human’s for it’s naturally hot spring waters and was later developed by Roman’s in 60AD as a spa town.  The town continued to play an important role of the settlers near the area, having served as a religious center in the 7th century it continued to thrive and fall to despair only to be rebuilt again and again over the years.  The most recent rebuild was after the Bath Blitz during WWII and the city was finally was pronounced a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.

Perhaps the most well known residence was Jane Austen, though she never completed a book here, rather she drew inspiration from the town and the people that spent their time in the gorgeous city. Many films have been made here including: The Other Boleyn Girl, The Duchess and Vanity Fair. Obviously the surrounding lend itself to a more historic atmosphere, and usually highlighting the Royal Crescent a unique curved townhouse building overlooking extensive gardens of the Royal Victoria Park.
Things to See Near the CrescentThe Royal Crescent itself is quite the site. Built between 1767 and 1775, people looking to invest in the building would buy a length of the facade and then employ their own architect the build the rest of their portion of the house. It remains today a townhouse, as it was always intended to be. At the eastern end of the house however is No.1 Royal Crescent, a historic house and museum open to the public. We were short on time and didn’t get a chance to go through it, but if you are interested in the house I would say it would be a great place to stop in.
The Royal Victoria Park is 57 acres and boasts a botanical garden, bowling greens, duck pond, tennis and skateboarding areas as well as a cafe among other attractions. It was dedicated in 1830 by Queen Victoria but rumor has it she was insulted by a local resident and never returned. However there is a obelisk in the park commemorating her.
This side of Bath is also home to the Circus another set of circular Georgian style townhouses, but rather than the large half moon shape of the Royal Crescent this set is four smaller sets that make up a full circle with a road in the middle. The area is also home to the Museum of East Asian Art.

Hidden Things To SeeBig popular sites are all well and good but I like to find the hidden gems of every place I visit. One such places is a small restored Georgian Garden located on the Eastern edge of the Royal Victoria Park. Directions indicate you are looking for a small footpath in the garden. So that is what we were searching for. It took us about 20 min to find it, we had walked past the painfully obvious walkway multiple times. If you walk to the eastern edge of the crescent and turn right, you will see before you enter the Royal Victoria Park a small footpath on the left which takes you along the backs of some houses. The maps for what ever reason seem to indicate that it is both in the garden and some sort of small gravel hard to find walkway. It is not, it is large, wide and most certainly paved.
Part way down the not at all gravel walkway on the left you will find a garden gate that is open to the public. This is the Georgian Garden. This small garden was restored after the own of the building was repairing part of the house and accidentally unearthed the original garden walls from the 1700s. Several restoration groups jumped into action to restore the garden to it’s original plans and it is now open from 9-7. It is a quick stop as it is a small garden but to garden lovers I think it will be well worth the detour.
After leaving the garden continue down the footpath to the left. This will open up to the street with the larger garden’s main gates which as guarded by bronze lions just to the right. Just outside the main gates is the Bath War Memorial that commemorates the lives of Bath residence lost in several different conflicts.

Places to Stay Near the CrescentThere are loads of places to stay near the Royal Crescent. But I can personally attest to the service provided by Bath Holiday Rentals. I found them on a booking site, and I wish I would have just booked with them directly. The cost is lower and the individuals working with the company are incredibly helpful and kind. There is an apartment managed by them that is on the block of townhouses in the Royal Crescent itself.  As well as a number of others within just a few blocks. We stayed a few blocks from the area in the River Street Mews location and loved our stay.

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