Traveling and exploring was something I always wanted to do since I was young. I wanted to go new places and see new things. However, and this shocks many, my adventures really have only begun in the last decade of my life. My first big trip abroad was 11 years ago, in the summer of 2007. Up until then, I had only flown once before for work and had never left the country. I owe a lot of this in part to my husband Steve who shares my love and adventure and helped get me on a track financially to save for trips. I digress for now but at the time, Steve and I were dating about a year and wanted to plan a trip together. We had picked the United Kingdom, focusing in on London and Southern England.
If you have never been abroad or to Europe and are considering it, I highly recommend considering the UK as your first trip. It's a great country that can introduce you to European lifestyle with some of our cultural influence; plus they also speak English. When planning for the trip I had been looking at some of the popular bus tour companies that spend a week driving around. We decided against the bus tour for two reasons. One is it was actually less expensive to do it ourselves. Two (and the main reason) is we didn’t want to be limited to a schedule or certain frame at any particular location. We did find the tours helpful though in figuring out what all we wanted to see and the best routes (remember this was before Google Maps). My brother, who was stationed in Germany at the time, ended up joining us for the week.
It was a wonderful trip and one I always remember fondly. Here are the highlights of our adventures of that week and those locations that still stick with me to this day.
When anyone asks me what my favorite city is that I have ever visited, I always say London. A city that beautifully combines its rich and long history with the modern; it's a fun and vibrant. We only spent a couple of days here but made sure to hit all the popular highlights. The Tower of London, The Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, The Globe Theater, and Trafalgar Square were some of my favorite stops . This is not even brushing on the various museums, pubs, stores, theatrical productions, and art galleries this city has to offer that we just did not have time to visit. This place is on my list of must return to someday.
Tip if you are planning to go and see some of the big attractions; look into getting The London Pass. It includes admission to several top attractions and we ended up saving hundreds of dollars.
Hampton Court Palace
This may be considered a London attraction but was quite a hike from the center of the city. We had to ride the Tube for a while and still end up taking a 20-30 minute bus ride after that. This impressive palace was worth the time. The grounds are huge, massive, ornate, ostentatious, and incredibly impressive. One of the highlights for us was walking through the 60 acre hedge maze.
Below is my brother and I in front of the palace entrance.
Heading abroad I was super excited to finally visit some real life castles; something I had wanted to do since a child. This castle was a good one for me for being my first. Nestled along the River Avon with its drawbridge, classic round towers, and beautifully landscaped grounds; it had that romantic storytelling feel to it (even with the dungeon). One of the highlights of that day was the birds. Peacocks walked the grounds and they even had falconry display with some bald eagles.
If you are interested in the history of the castle I recently stumbled across a show on Netlfix called Secrets of British Castles. There is a good episode about Warwick Castle.
The Bard aka William Shakespeare was born in this town. Today you can visit the house in which he was born and grew up. Even though I love old houses, what was fascinating to me was understanding how people in that time frame lived (and his family was pretty wealthy in the town). Though I found the tour enjoyable, I enjoyed touring Anne Hathaway’s cottage more. I am not talking about the current living actress, but Shakespeare's wife. The 600 year old farmhouse with its beautiful gardens and thatched roof make you feel as you have traveled in time. Finally, no visit to this town would be complete without taking in a play by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The theater there was a nice size and didn't have a bad seat. We say an amazing performance of Macbeth while in town.
Below is the house Shakespeare was born.
Stonehenge & Avebury
If you are anywhere in the English countryside, I feel like Stonehenge is a must visit. This world famous site is one of those places that you have to visit at least once. It is not a place you need to spend a lot of time. You can’t really get that close to the stones, so once you admire them and walk around for about 15 minutes or so, that is all there is to see. Someone there told us if we wanted to get close and touch some standings stones, to head to the nearby town of Avebury.
The small country town has three stone circles whose’ origins also remain unknown. These ones were literally in fields with cows and sheep (which my husband and brother almost started a sheep stampede); so we had to be careful where we stepped. The best part is we got to admire these ancient stones for free and without all the tourists. Note though it seems from my research the Avebury Standing Stones have grown in popularity since our visit. They are managed by the National Trust now and it does appear you may have to pay a small fee to park.
Below is Steve and I in front of Stonehenge. We look so young here!
This was a quick stop on on our tour or one day and one night. We enjoyed a lovely double-decker bus tour of the area and got to see lovely parks and some of the architecture. I got to drive by Jane Austen’s home but did not get any sort of Austen experience. Our reason for the stop was to see The Ancient Roman Baths. We did not partake in the spa side but had an enjoyable tour of the museums and history surrounding these. I also remember getting some excellent fudge at a fudge shop right outside this attraction. There is also a memorable story between the three of us about our noisy neighbors that night that isn't best to discuss here, but ask us about it in person sometime!
Now known for its big music festival every summer, my reason for visiting was personal interest. In my youth I was a bit of an Arthurian; that is I was a little obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and his knights of the round table. I admit that interest has waned some through the years, but was in full force when we took this trip. Glastonbury had a couple of stops tied to this legend. First is the ruins of the Abbey was supposedly where monks found the remains of Arthur and Guinevere in the 12th century.
Then there is the town's famous Tor. This rounded hill is rumored to be the place of Avalon from the King Arthur stories. There is also legends that say this is where Joseph of Arimathea brought the Holy Grail and buried it. There are lots of fascinating stories and legends surrounding the whole town of Glastonbury that is worth an internet, and must if you ever plan to visit this area.
The picture below is is hiking up the Tor to the monument on top.
Another stop due to my King Arthur fascination, is his rumored place of birth. These dramatic cliffs of castle ruins along the Atlantic ocean make an impressive stop, even if you could care less about whether some man from a legend actually lived. Sadly the day we visited their was the remains of a storm in the area. The rough seas and wind prevent us from exploring the beach area and Merlin’s Cave, but definitely added to the power of this place.
St. Michaels Mount
Not to be confused with is Mont Saint-Michel in France; though easy to see why mixed. Both were religious sites dedicated to the Archangel Michael, both are on islands close to the mainland, and both are inaccessible when the tide is high. I visited when the tide was out and was able to walk across the stone path to this castle built on what appears to be a big rock island out in the ocean. Walking through it village and exploring the castle on the hill felt like stepping back in time to a true small town.
Visiting places like the UK you are going to come across some very large, very old, and very impressive churches. This one was hands down my favorite. It wasn’t just its beauty of the cathedral and all the details, or that has the most intact surviving copy of the Magna Carta. This place spoke to me on a spiritual level. Words seemed to have eluded me while inside and I felt the presence of God powerfully beside me the entire time. My husband jokes we need to go back to this place as very few times in this world have I been left speechless.
One of my last stops before heading home on my tour of the UK, was to see the white cliffs of Dover. Yes they are really white but the castle the perches on top of them is the real reason to visit. An impressive and intact fortress that watches over the English channel as the ferries come in and out below. This castle has one of the most fascinating histories that spans from Henry II, to Napoleon, and through World War II. Remember that castle show I mentioned on Netflix earlier? One of their first episode is about Dover Castle and it is the one episode I recommend the most out of any. Plus any place with secret tunnels is just awesome.
There you have. If you have been to the southern part of the UK or England, would love to hear some of your favorite locations.
All pictures from this blog were taken by myself or my husband on this trip.