London, Bath, Liverpool, York, Stratford, Edinburgh, Cambridge and the charm of the Lake District
I enjoyed driving holidays around Britain when my husband, George was alive. He loved old churches and I adored English gardens and ancient places only the British Isles offers.
Sadly, I thought I would never see those places again until I spotted a winter bus trip to Britain last fall. The itinerary covered London, Bath, Liverpool, York, Stratford, Edinburgh, Cambridge and the Lake District.
I arrived at Heathrow Airport after a long night in a budget seat and as I came through arrivals saw my name held high on a placard and a driver to escort me to a limousine.
My hotel, the Tower Hotel, was around Victoria Station – right in the thick of everything. Our guide, Jaimie, welcomed me at the hotel.
Through out the trip I would leave my luggage outside the room at 7 am and I didn’t see it again until it was deposited to my room at the next hotel.
The bus itself was luxurious, every seat was a good seat. I was the only Canadian among 47 Americans on the tour. Jaimie was – smart, knowledgeable and well educated. She wisely forbade us to talk politics or religion.
Through out the tour she was aided by local guides. They were all accredited and knew their local history, kings and queens of England and major events as they occurred through the centuries.
We spent two days whizzing around London and I revisited the galleries.
Then it was time to head out, our first stop was Stonehenge – I know it is interesting but rocks are rocks, however massive and old, and hardly deserved the huge visitors center, cafe, shops and the parking lot crammed with tour buses. Changed days from when my children played hide and seek among the stones.
Beautiful Bath was our destination for the night, we drove up to have a peek at the stunning Georgian Crescent and then on to the center and the Roman baths. We had a guided tour of the Roman ruins, the baths and afterward we had tea in the pump room. A Bath experience.
The next morning, in bright sunshine, we headed up to the Cotswolds. I loved the bare oak trees, the bronze beech hedges and fields of sheep.
Our rest stop was Stow on the Wold. It oozed with Cotswold charm, the bells were ringing out in the ancient church and as we drank our coffee in the charming coffee shop, we voted it the quintessential perfect village.
Stratford and Shakespeare were next on the tour and for most travellers a must see..
We had a long drive that day over to Liverpool. In an suburb of the city we stopped to pick up an unlikely-looking older woman who was our Beatles tour guide.
First thing she did was crank up the music and had us all singing “Its A Hard Day’s Night.”
She pointed out “Abbey Road,” the houses and schools where the boys attended and told detailed stories of their young lives and how they became the Beatles. Every bit of it was riveting and to cap it off we were dropped off downtown near The Cavern Club.
A side entrance was opened for us and we were down into the holy grail of Beatles music and memorabilia.
The music was loud and the bar busy. We had time to drink and dance – and we did – it was so much fun. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would dance in the famous Cavern Club.
The next morning we drove to the Lake District, it was beautiful with its hilly scenery and stonewalls and of course fields of sheep. The roads are narrow and the villages looked busy with outdoorsy shops selling gear for hiking.
I noticed well-marked trails everywhere and small senior groups of walkers heading out for a day in the hills.
We stopped at the lovely village of Grasmere for coffee and a ramble around. We waited in a long line to buy the famous gingerbread in the tiniest shop in England. We carried our adorable little package back to the bus. (It didn’t last the journey back to Canada.)
Our big treat that day was tea and scones with lashings of cream at one of Beatrix Potter’s stone cottages. Our guide filled us in on the life- saving role Beatrix Potter played in preserving this unique part of England.
A kilted piper was playing his heart out as the bus pulled in to the “castle area” in Edinburgh. We were staying near the Grassmarket – a vibrant area in the auld toun. I’ve been to Edinburgh many times, however I learned a lot more about it, as out guide knew all its secrets and shared them with us freely.
Despite the gloomy grey-stoned austere buildings and even on a drizzly day there is a wonderful vibrancy about Edinburgh, and the pubs are warm and welcoming.
We all loaded back into the bus for a drive up to Arthur’s Seat to get the best view of the city. Several hearty Scots were running up the steep trail – Edinburgh’s Grouse Grind.
Then it was on to the New Town to admire the beautiful Georgian squares. Our guide pointed out all the places and pubs where the famous authors and notables drank. There was whiskey tasting and shopping and we split into small groups to go out for dinner.
I took a bus out to see Rosslyn Chapel, it was under scaffolding when I visited several years ago – what an astonishing little church it is, ancient and filled with symbolism.
It was a wonderful three days, but the road beckoned and soon we were heading for York. I lived near York many years ago and I was so excited to be back in this wonderful small city and to visit the Minster and The Shambles with its variety of tempting little shops, bakeries and tea rooms.
After a night in York we headed down to Cambridge. A Christmas market was in progress, with roasted chestnut and all sorts of festive goodies on offer.
Then it was back to London for more sightseeing and museums, and one more night more night in the Tower Hotel.