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The Big Reveal: London, Cotswolds, Northern Wales Sept 24 -Oct 10

After prowling the England and Wales boards for a couple months, going thru the RS London book and researching a multitude of websites, I have locked in the following itinerary for wife and I Sept 24 to Oct 10 2015. We are mid 50's, decent shape, appreciate food culture (anything from fine dining to street food), architecture, connecting with locals (I,e pubs, pubs and maybe pubs), soaking up the the local scene and staying active. I'm looking for any glaring errors or omissions which you experienced travellers or residents can pick up, or suggestions to improve the flow of things, or if you think we need to spend more or less time at certain sights. This is our first visit to the UK, fifth to Europe. We will have our (mostly) trusty GPS for the time we will have the rental car, and will pick up maps as a backup.

Thanks in advance.

Sept 23: launch from Vancouver BC 8:40pm, Lufthansa sardine class.

Sept 24: arrive LHR 8:30am. Clear the airport by 11:30 or 12. Heathrow Express prepaid to Paddington. Pick up 7 day paper Travelcard at Paddington (...2for1 where possible, vouchers printed in advance). Tube or taxi to Hazlitts in Soho (booked). Sleep for a couple hours then walk Whitehall from Trafalgar Square to Westminster Abbey and back, to get our bearings. Find a pub.

Sept 25: Hoho Big Bus Tour (prepaid) for orientation first thing in the morning. Westminster Abbey 11am to 1:00om, Churchill War Rooms 1:00 -5:00pm and walk by "the other stuff"; #10 Downing, Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards Parade, Trafalgar Square. London Eye prior to 8:30pm last entry (hopefully it's dark and sky is clear).

Sept 26: Borough Market 8am. Royal Albert Hall Tour 11:30 - 12:30 (prepaid). Bike around Hyde Park, checkout Speakers Corner, Marble Arch, Kensignton Palace from the outside. Tour Buck House 2pm (Queens Gallery, Royal Mews, State Rooms): prepaid..

Sept 27: Bletchley Park by rail (or Stonehenge by car); to be determined before we leave home. Maybe Spitalfields Market if we are back in time.

Sept 28: Changing of the Guard. Then Thames Clipper to Tower Millenium Pier; walk to Leadenhall Market (+/- 2 to 4 pm). Thames Clipper to Canary Wharf; walk around, explore. Then DLR to Greenwich. Walk around, explore, have supper, return late by DLR and Central tube line to Hazlitts.

Sept 29: British Museum 9am - 2pm. National Gallery 2pm - 4 pm. National Portarit Gallery 4pm - closing (6pm).

Sept 30: Tower of London and Tower Bridge 9am - 2pm ( see Crown Jewels first thing). St Paul's Cathedral and Dome 2pm - closing.

Oct 1: pick up car at LHR (prepaid) and travel to B&B in Shipston-on-Stour (booked). Stop to visit Oxford on the way( Oxford Town Hall, Carfax Tower, Univ. of Oxford buildings, University Press, Covered Market) (my plan is to temporarily drop the car at the Europcar/Hertz lot at Oxford airport for the day and bus into Oxford; worked for us in Palermo last year).

Oct 2: Tour Cotswold villages (Moreton-in Marsh, Stow-on-the-Wold,, Upper Slaughter, Bourton on the Water, Burford, Great Rissington). Mostly because of the cool names. Oh yeah, and the culture too.

Oct 3: Tintern Abbey 9am - 1pm. Brecon Food Festival and Farmers Market 1 - 5pm.

Oct 4: Blenheim Palace, (pass purchased) and Chill day (maybe laundry and a pub).

Oct 5: Travel to B&B in Betwys-y-Coed. (Booked). Check out the Town. Find a pub.
.
Oct 6: "Bridges and Swellies" (prepaid) Irish Sea Rib Ride in Menai Bridge, Anglesey 11am - 12 noon. Caernarfon Castle and Townsite 1:30pm - 7pm

Oct 7: Museum and Slate Mine in Llanberis, Rack railway up Snowdon Mountain. Check out Portmeirion.

Oct 8: Conwy Castle/Townsite. Denbigh Castle/Townsite.

Oct 9: Travel to Birmingham. Drop car at Hertz, drop luggage at North Terminal luggage point. Train or tram to city centre (great western arcade, picadilly arcade, Victoria Square, Brindleyplace, canals). Back to Novotel Airport (booked)

October 10: Birminghamm to YVR.

Posted by
646 posts

Sept 26: Borough Market 8am - yes, technically it opens at 8am, but things don't really get going until much later, maybe 10-11am. Certainly only a few of the produce places are open that early, not all the stalls, and none will be serving food at that time... apart from the 'greasy spoon' café inside... not a negative comment, the Bacon sarnie's I had there were excellent (sandwiches).

Your London leg looks sensible, I'm not best placed to comment on the rest of your trip outside London.

Posted by
4684 posts

Oxford Airport is very, very small and is largely for private air. There is no regular bus service from it. Rather than try to park there, I would recommend using one of the four Park & Ride sites that are dotted around the outskirts of the city, and have very frequent bus services into the centre.

Posted by
7124 posts

In North Wales the Castles and Town Walls of King Edward in Gwynedd are classified by UNESCO ...
"The castles of Beaumaris and Harlech (largely the work of the greatest military engineer of the time, James of St George) and the fortified complexes of Caernarfon and Conwy are located in the former principality of Gwynedd, in north Wales. These extremely well-preserved monuments are examples of the colonization and defence works carried out throughout the reign of Edward I (1272–1307) and the military architecture of the time."

Try and get to all four if you can. In 2004 I only made it to three and regret missing Harlech to this day. Enjoy.

Also, National Trust Property Hidcote, one of England's finest gardens is right near you at Shipston-on-Stour.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hidcote/

Posted by
4675 posts

Oxford airport bus services are only hourly through the day but at 15 minute intervals during commuter time. Confusingly these are different services run by different bus companies. Use Water Eaton or Pear Tree P&R instead.

Posted by
395 posts

Just addressing your food appreciation.

There are lots of terrific dining options in the area you are staying in London. One of my favourite restaurants is on Wardour Street nearby - an Italian restaurant called Princi (doesn't accept bookings). Short walk further afield is a new Indian restaurant that we really enjoyed, Asma Khan's Darjeeling Express on Great Pulteney Street. Also a branch of small Mexican chain Wahaca on Wardour Street. In fact, there's just so much in this area I could give heaps more recommendations and I'm sure other posters could too.

Posted by
3580 posts

Very well thought out itinerary! I wonder about your flight times over to the UK. I calculate only 4 hours of flight time. Check your airline ticket. Some of your pre-paid things could wait until you are there. HOHO bus, for example. Some of your days look really crowded and busy, maybe rushed. Try to build in some "optional" events so you have some breathing room. Two more museums after the British Museum on the same day would be a real killer for many of us. I love The National Portrait Gallery at Trafalgar Square and can spend two hours there every time I go. Nearby is the church of St-Martin-in-the-Field which has a basement (crypt) devoted to serving up food and snacks all day. They also have a mid-day music program in the main church.

Take some time to ride in the top of a double-decker bus. It's a great way to enjoy London!

If you want to do some country walking, walk from one village to the next in the Cotswolds.

Be prepared for rain.

Have a great time!

Posted by
467 posts

Wow, excellent thoughts and feedback. Thanks everyone. Swan caught my glaring error right off the bat. We live in Northern BC (and I mean NORTHERN... like, on the Alaska Highway...) and pass through Vancouver about 10 days before the start of this trip, and actually launch from Toronto, so thanks for seeing that. Still an 840pm departure on Lufthansa though. I suspected that doing the British Museum, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery all in one day might be too much, thanks for that insight. We will reconsider the schedule for that day, and probably drop the National Gallery unfortunately.

The Park and Ride outside Oxford I think is a great suggestion. There is a concern though about leaving our luggage in the car while we are gone for the day (although we will keep it hidden in the boot), but we will plan to take advantage of that, taking cash, cards, passports with us.

With a bit of adjustment I was able to work in a visit to Beaumaris Castle on Oct 6 as it's just a bit north of Menai Bridge. Thanks David for pointing that out. Working Harlech into Oct 7 is proving to be more difficult, simply due to the distances between Snowdon Railway, Harlech and Port Meirion. We might scrub Port Meirion in favour of Harlech Castle.

Katy, thanks for the restaurant suggestions. I did see Princi earlier in my research, and we will be sure to get there, and have a close look at your other suggestions. My wife also wanted to check out at least a couple of the Jamie Oliver restaurants too. I think there's one in Covent Garden and one near Picadilly.

Thanks again for the wonderful feedback.

Posted by
646 posts

Nothing outstanding about JO's restaurants, though not bad either. It's not high end cuisine, but generally above middle. Personally, I'd chose Carluccio's... again, similar to JO, but less pretentious I find.

Posted by
6336 posts

Can only comment on the London portion of the trip. First day pub after getting your bearings could be either the Red Lion on Whitehall ( it's where I have my traditional first pint each trip, something established in the John Major years). Was rebooted in 2014, Fullers took over and spiffed it up a bit. Thankfully, they kept the traditional look. OR you could try St. Stephen's Tavern pub across from Parliament OR Westminster Arms OR the lovely Two Chairman Public House which you can find off of Birdcage Walk or off of Storey Gate down Old Queen Gate to Darmouth street. Charming neighborhood pub.
All good options for you first night pub experience. The day you visit the Tower and St Paul's I encourage you to visit the glass covered Leadenhall Market. Makes much more sense on this day than the other. You should also plan on visiting one of my favorite pubs, The Blackfriar. It's stunning. Art Deco and the chicken and mushroom pie is delicious.

Personally unless you must say you saw the Changing of the Guards I'd drop it from your itinerary. Its 15 minutes at most and you need to get there a good hour early to get a good spot to see it. IMHO not worth the effort. Also unless times have changed it's at 11am which takes up most of your morning sightseeing. On that day, Sept 28, I'd start at the Tower Wharf then walk up to or tube to Spittafields market. Explore there and the surrounding Brick Lane neighborhood, the Columbia Flower Market. Then off to Canary Wharf by foot or Tube or via the Thames Clipper. About 2.5 miles of walking
if memory serves me well.

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Have a great time!

Posted by
467 posts

Mike J

Thanks for the info on Carluccio's. I see there is one smack in the middle of Canary Wharf, but then there's a Jamies Italian in Greenwich. Both would work for the day we are over there. It's the wife's call as she's the JO nut but the Jamies Greenwich location doesn't get great reviews, something I've noticed about some of his locations in London.

Claudia.

I've checked out all of the pubs you've mentioned and they look great, thanks. Nothing like a recommendation from someone who's been there to help sort through the choices. I'll mark up a Google map with all of your suggested locations and add that to my itinerary package.

I appreciate all of the suggestions and recommendations from those that have provided feedback to help make our trip successful.

Peter.

Posted by
27710 posts

Unless you plan on a protracted interview at either the Border Control desk or Customs, I can't see it taking you 3 or 3 and a half hours to clear Heathrow. 1 and a half to 2 or so....

From the Birmingham Airport to Birmingham International Station is a 70 second driverless horizontal cable car which runs every 90 to 120 seconds. Downstairs onto a train to New Street Station in around 10 minutes. Make VERY sure that the train ticket you buy corresponds to the train you get on.

There are 3 train companies which serve International to and from New Street which are Arriva Trains Wales (once an hour), Virgin West Coast Trains (red and silver, 3 an hour), and London Midland (green and gray, between 4 and 7 an hour) and they do not accept each other's tickets. On the bottom line of a ticket (in the centre) will be a few words. It will either say "Any Permitted", "ATW Only", "VTWC Only", or "LM Only". Inspectors on those trains will only accept tickets with Any Permitted or the one with the abbreviation of their company. If you are checked and don't have that you don't have a valid ticket and will either be sold a correct one or you will be issued a £20 penalty fare, depending what job the inspector has. A word to the wise is sufficient.

Oct 2; maybe add Great Tew.

Posted by
27710 posts

A second vote for Princi or Carluccio's over Jamie's Italian or his attempt at BBQ.

I find his restaurants just too poncy, and too expensive - too much attempting to trade on his TV persona. Food is OK, service is hmmmmm, OKish, a bit too American for me.

Carluccio's reflects on the chef creator but in a very good way. The chain is fairly homogeneous but in a good way, the prices are acceptable, the noise level is acceptable, the food is uniformly pretty good. After the meal undo your belt another notch and have a Bicerin.

And then there's Princi...

To be honest - it is fairly hard to go very far wrong on Wardour Street between Old Compton Street and Oxford Street.

Posted by
7124 posts

I would consider your visit to Blenheim Palace on October 1st whilst en route to your B&B. You can then a dedicate a full day to Oxford on Oct 4th. Security for your car (with luggage) would be better at Blenheim than a Park'n'Ride at Oxford.

Also, on Oct 3rd, Tintern Abbey will take you about an hour. It's very picturesque, but also very ruined.
Spend some time to stop off and visit the magnificent Gloucester Cathedral on your way.
http://www.sacred-destinations.com/england/gloucester-cathedral

Oct 6: "Bridges and Swellies" (prepaid) Irish Sea Rib Ride in Menai Bridge. Anglesey. Beaumaris Castle.
Oct 7: Conwy Castle/Townsite. Museum and Slate Mine in Llanberis, Rack railway up Snowdon Mountain.
Oct 8: Caernarfon Castle and Townsite. Check out Portmeirion. Harlech Castle.

Posted by
1887 posts

I am not so sure about Gloucester - the Cathedral is not one of England's best and I thought the shopping streets were rather run down.

I would not bother with Moreton-in-Marsh but visit Chipping Campden and Broadway instead.

I don't get why you go into south Wales (Tintern & Brecon) & then return to the Cotswolds before heading for north Wales. Of course, Brecon & Tintern are reasonable day trips from your Cotswold base but it would have been a nice drive through the middle of Wales on the A470 going to north Wales. Anyway, I replied in April for someone who was going from the Cotswolds to north Wales. My response might be useful:> https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/wales/north-wales-itinerary

For Snowdon - you need to watch weather forecast and do it on your first fine day in north Wales. You can drive down to Harlech if you wish and then see if you have time to visit Portmeirion as it is not that far away.

Posted by
467 posts

I've discussed dropping the Sept 28 Changing the Guard with the wife as it ties us down for most of that morning. Negotiations are continuing.

We don't normally seek out chain restaurants when we are on these trips but in this case JO has been all over the Food Network and other cooking shows for quite some time (and the wife is quite the cook, which I really do appreciate), hence the interest is getting to a JO in London. Having said that, Carluccio's looks good and there are a lot of them in London so if we come across one we will likely stop in.

I've changed our exit time from LHR to 10:30am, thanks Nigel. No extended interview at Customs anticipated! Having read about the chaos at LHR it seems I over estimated the time required. Thanks also for the advice on the horizontal cable car at Birmingham Airport. I had no idea. And yes, we will pay attention to having the right tickets for the right train. We've experienced some nasty ticket checkers (Berlin) and it wasn't pleasant. We laugh about it now though.

David, I think we will take your advice and switch Oct 1 and 4 around, makes much more sense, thanks. We will use one of the Park and Ride lots on the north side of Oxford as recommended previously by Marco and Philip.

Tintern Abbey was added thanks to that short video RS recently did. Plus (in our terms) it's relatively close to our B&B. Makes sense to add a brief stop in Gloucester to see the cathedral as we are passing by anyway. Plus, the Brecon Food Festival and Farmers Market is happening that day which the wife would want to see.

James....for that drive through the middle of Wales heading north which you detailed back in late April, what would you estimate the driving time to be for that (Shipston on Stour to Betwys-y-Coed) with stops at Stokesay and Powis Castles? That route looks way more interesting than the one we had planned.

Thanks,
Peter

Posted by
646 posts

Carluccio's is a great place for breakfast.

Reasonably regularly i go to the St. Christopher's Place one, and I think their version of a 'full English' (a Magnifica something..... Includes fresh juice and a coffee for £10) is the best breakfast in town.

Posted by
823 posts

Nice but busy itinerary - sounds challenging. I just have a few comments on the London portion of the trip. I have found, over the course of many trips to Europe, that trying to catch a couple hours of sleep the afternoon of arrival only leads to delays in resetting one's body clock. I my personal experience, keeping as active and mentally occupied as possible that first jet-lagged afternoon and evening pays big dividends as by morning I'm on the local time.

Not much to see at 10 Downing except a really pretty wrought iron gate and two of Her Majesty's finest...

Borough Market is a wonderful place to have lunch. In fact, it's a "foodie's paradise." I would recommend re-arranging your schedule that day to hit the market for lunch. Maybe towards the tail-end of the city's lunch period (~13:00) so the city workers are heading back to their offices.

Due to the extreme traffic congestion, I feel the HOHO buses are a waste of time. Their routes aren't particularly intuitive and you sit in traffic more than you actually move. Finding your bearings is just as easy by walking, riding the tube, or taking buses.

The British Museum is enormous. Study their web site and decide what one or two galleries you want to see. There is no way to see the entire museum in one whole day much less 2-3 hours.

I would also recommend the Museum of London. It’s really entertaining and it’s close to St Paul’s.

Speaking of travel cards... Since you're hitting the ground running, spend the extra money on an "all day" travel passes. The "off-peak" passes don't let you on public transport before 0930. This can put a significant delay into your site seeing each morning. Traveling during peak hours (0630-0930) means doing a lot of standing on the tube or on buses but it enables you to get to your first venue right as it opens.

Another thing about paper travel cards... Their magnetic strip is about the weakest I've ever encountered. Eel-skin wallets, electric clocks, TVs and even the magnets in a purse/wallet closure will render them useless. It's really irritating having to hunt down a tube attendant to manually let you through a turnstyle. Not to mention that you're normally in a rush when it happens... Next time I go to London, I'm getting an Oyster card...

Posted by
7124 posts

I note as your travelling "sardine class" that you may like to save some money by checking the tide times on the Thames, and avoid paying entry at the Tower of London by swimming in through Traitor's Gate.

Posted by
1887 posts

Hi Peter,
I have just used this website to break the journey from Shipston to Betws-y-Coed into sections.
http://www.theaa.com/route-planner/index.jsp

Shipston > Bromyard (for Lower Brockhampton Hall) = 47 miles in 1hour 20 minutes.
Bromyard > Ludlow = 21 miles in 32 minutes.
Ludlow > Powis Castle = 34 miles in 53 minutes - this does not include the stopping time at Stokesay Castle (just N of Ludlow).
Powis Castle > Betws-y-Coed = 57 miles in 1 hour 35 minutes.
TOTAL = 159 miles

On that final leg, you will pass near a village called Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant. From here, a backroad goes up a dead end valley (about 5 miles) to the Pistyll Rhaeadr Waterfall. You may like to consider going to this beautiful waterfall if you have time - assuming that you are following my route. You would then need to return down the valley and make for the B4391 which will take you over the Berwyn Mountains to Bala. (Try and find these places on Google Earth). An alternative route on better roads would be to use the A5 via Llangollen for the Powis Castle to BYC leg.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pistyll_Rhaeadr