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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.
Our last day down by Sorrento we spent on the island of Capri. We took our little tram up to Sorrento and hoped on the ferry boat for the day. Since we were on a schedule to ensure we got off the island at the end of the day we didn’t have a whole lot of time to see much. Our friends had a tour to visit the Blue Grotto, so once we disembarked they met up with their tour group and we headed up the hill to explore the area.
We didn’t manage to make it to Capri’s Villa Jovis, a roman palace that is now an archaeological site that can be toured. After our all day trek through Pompeii the day before we were looking for something a little more low key and just chose to wander around the streets and take in the sights.
We headed straight up the hill and wandered into a number of various businesses. I think our favorite was probably the sewing shop. They had so much fabric it was even hanging from the ceiling. We continued up the hill and managed to find where all the people were hanging out. All the designer shops seemed to be huddled together near the top of the hill part of town. There were so many fashionable fancy people and so many shops neither of us would have ever even thought of buying anything in. But it was really fun to window shop and people watch.
We ended our day in Capri meeting back up with our friends and sitting on the beach near the ferry port for a good few hours. Then we caught the ferry back to Sorrento, had some dinner and took our trolley back to our campsite for our last night before heading to Venice the next day.
As far back as I can remember visiting art museums has been a tradition between my dad and I. No matter where it was that we were at, there was always a museum, or gallery or store full of art to be visited. He is an artist and I have always wanted to be just like him. Real life happened and I didn’t go into the arts, but I do appreciate them as well as paint from time to time.
There is nothing like one of the best art museums on the west coast to light the artistic fire in you. After visiting the LACMA I spent the rest of my summer afternoons painting in our backyard.
The LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) opened in 1965 and has expanded in both its collection and physical size ever since. The museum is huge, far too much to see in a single day but worth every minuet if you enjoy the arts.
We wandered around for a few hours, had lunch in their cafe which is actually pretty good and then wandered around for a few more hours. Our taste in art differs a lot but mostly in the type that we create. In many cases we do tend to like the same things in other people’s work. Which means spending a lot of time standing around a few pieces and then breezing through entire exhibits that don’t interest us as much.
Aside for the exhibits, the museum itself, like most museums has some pretty impressive architecture as well as exterior installations. The museum shares a campus with the La Brea Tar Pits, so even if you don’t have time or the energy to go through the museum itself just walking around and taking it all in is an experience. All in all it was a really great visit!