10 day visit to England/ Wales

First, I want to thank Rick Steves for the great advice his books have given us in our travels through France. We do not travel without you in our bag!
We are planning a 10 day trip to England in the Spring to see our son who is studying in Oxford. Our travelling crew will be two parents, a 21 yr old who enjoys music and midieval 'stuff' and a 15 year old who loves castles but not museums. We will fly in and out of London. Could you please tell us if this itinerary is viable? We arrive around 7 AM on a Thursday. We are thinking that we will rent a car at Heathrow then travel for a quick view of Stonehenge, then head on for lunch at Glastonbury. We will spend a couple of hours there and aim for the choir concert/ service at Wells Cathedral. Then we will head to Bath to collapse (& have dinner). The next two days friends will meet us in Bath where we will see Bath and do a day trip to South Wales. Day 4 we'll go to North Wales then head back for Day 5 at Stratford where we would hopefully get tickets for a show. We would go to Oxford the next day and then spend days 7-10 in London. On the ride to and from North Wales to we would get a bit of the flavor of the Cotswalds on the way to Stratford/ Oxford. Do you think this is feasible and would be fun or grueling? Your advice is very much appreciated!

Posted by Bob
Bristol, UK
277 posts

No, that's far too busy for the day of your arrival. You will be jet lagged, and that is not a good time to start driving on the wrong (for you) side of the road in a car you don't know, and in circumstances that are quite different to what you are used. The passengers will soon fall asleep, but the danger is that the driver will as well. Even if you don't have an accident, you will be exhausted and bad-tempered by the end of the day, and will not have enjoyed your time at all. Rethink your schedule. On your first day, take things very easy.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8726 posts

grueling. Yup, grueling. Grueling, grueling, grueling. Without question. Grueling. First question, before my illustrious fellow helpliners claim it is ... Who will be doing the driving that first day while you and your travel party sleep in the car? I hope it is your Oxford son. Or that you are arriving by plane from Ireland or France. If you are flying in from Logan, please post on this helpline the exact date so I can mark it on my calendar to stay off the roads that day. Long drives and jet lag do not mix, and when they also travel with their friend "overnight sleep deprivation" they can be deadly. So, arrive in the morning, (plane late?) 60-90 minutes immigration, bag check, customs, an hour to get the car, drive all the way to Salisbury Plain, then see Stonehenge, drive to Glastonbury, walk around the stones (you do know how big the Glastonbury Circle is, right?) then get to Wells, and get to Bath??? In one day? I wouldn't do that if I had a hotel here to start from, or from home, much less after an intercontinental flight all night.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8726 posts

Damn. no matter how fast I write somebody else (thanks Bob - just what I was thinking) gets to it first.

Posted by Linda
Reading, MA, USA
7 posts

Thank you for your prompt replies and your candidness. We are coming in from Logan and we never tend to get enough sleep before we leave on vacation, so I hear what you are saying. It would be lousy to be ill tempered our first day back with our son. It looked so easy on the map :( and the book recommended staying in Bath the first night. Do you think we could try to see Stonehenge and then lodge in Glastonbury that first night? then make our way to Bath the next day to meet our friends? I was just so excited about the concert in Wells :(. By the way, is the concert an interdenominational service - I thought I read that somewhere? Another question would be if we are trying to do too much by visiting South and North Wales when we only have 10 days? Is there a way to drive up the West Coast so we wouldn't have to go in and out of Wales? If we have to choose, which one would you recommend? Thank you!!

Posted by Bob
Bristol, UK
277 posts

Having shot down your original plan, it seems only right to make some alternative suggestions. Your worst time for tiredness is likely to be in the morning, and that is also the time of most stress with immigration, car hire, driving on different roads, etc. By the evening, you may find that you have a little more energy, and your body clock will be telling you that it is mid-afternoon. Your plan seems to be Heathrow - Stonehenge - Glastonbury - Wells - Bath. It looks like you have to cut one of those, but which is up to you, and depends on your priorities. The only fixed event is the one in Wells Cathedral. Is that a normal service or a special concert? Choral Evensong is 3 p.m. on Sundays and 5.15 p.m. on weekdays. A concert would probably be later. During services and concerts, access to the cathedral is usually limited to those attending and not to tourists in general. What do you want to see in Glastonbury? There is the "new age" stuff, which can be a bit tacky at times, there is Glastonbury Tor if you like walking up hills, and there are the abbey ruins. Only you can decide if that is a major attraction for you. Personally, I think Wells Cathedral, its architecture and the surrounding small city, are much more worth seeing. Have you thought about staying overnight in Wells? The downside is having to move all your stuff the following morning when you go to Bath (about an hours drive), but it might make the evening more relaxed. It may depend on your budget and what accommodation you can find. The roads in this part of Somerset tend to be slow going, so allow for that in your plans. Finally, your time at Stonehenge may depend on the weather. It is not the place to be on a cold, wet windy day. Avebury as an alternative has a bit more to see, and also places to eat. Hope that helps.

Posted by Linda
Reading, MA, USA
7 posts

Hi, Thanks again for your thoughtful reply. Our original plan was to aim for the Wells Evensong service at 5:15 on a Thursday, and stay there overnight, going to Bath the next AM, but when we saw it was only 22 miles we thought maybe we should just go to a place we would stay for 2 nights. When you said drop one of the places on our route, do you think stopping in Wells for the night would be more reasonable? My son has grown up interested in King Arthur so we thought Glastonbury would be a fun place to start. We are looking forward to hills and ruins. Stonehenge was included because it was a 'do not miss' site. Quite frankly, my family will walk around it and be done. I will want to read/ experience and will take more time. Given our family's dissonent styles and the Rick's warning that Stonehenge was touristy, we agreed that we would stop briefly there and spend more time at other 'circles' in towns that are more accessible. According to my map, if we did Avebury we would be foregoing Glastonbury and Wells. It looks more direct to Bath. I will go back to my book and read more. Do you know about Wales? We heard that the west coast was beautiful, but Rick's route takes us back out of Wales through England and across the Iron Bridge to get to North Wales. Looking at the miles, I imagine a circular tour of Wales could not be done pleasurably in a couple of days. Is there a way to get efficiently, pleasurably, and economically from South to North Wales without going the extra miles through England? I imagine the mountains in the middle present a road block. We were figuring that we would stop overnight in Stratford later so we can see a play when we are on route to Oxford and then London. Thank you for your advice!

Posted by Bob
Bristol, UK
277 posts

On reflection, Avebury would be too much of a diversion if you wanted to see Stonehenge as well as Glastonbury and Wells. You may also have picked up that I am not a great fan of Glastonbury. The Tor and the Abbey are nice, as is the Rural Life Museum, but much of the rest is fanciful nonsense. If you like joss sticks, crystals and vegan food, you will feel at home. Arthur was a mythical king, so there is nothing original to actually see. My suggestion about staying in Wells was just to avoid another journey, however short, and the hassle of finding your place in Bath and any problems you might have with parking. You would not get to Bath until about 7.30, which would not even be the last activity of the day, since you would want to eat. Have you identified a place to stay in Bath yet? Bath has the advantage that there are lots of places to eat, but you may just want to crash at that stage. However, moving on to Bath in the morning may mean you spend most of the day getting settled in your accommodation. Your plan may depend on what places in Bath you hope to visit. As for getting from South Wales to North Wales, it all depends on where you start from and where you want to get to. There are roads through the middle of Wales, but the journey is slow, which is why between Cardiff and Conway the best route goes mostly through England. Even that is not particularly fast. Irobridge is a destination in itself and well out of the way. The Iron Bridge itself is now pedestrian only, and is notable for its historic importance rather than as a spectacle. I have only ever seen a Rick Steves book in an American airport. They are not sold over here, so I cannot comment in detail on what he recommends. My perspective as a native is probably quite different from yours as a visitor, but I am always concerned when I think destinations have been hyped a little too far.

Posted by Robin Z
Troy, Oh, USA
1634 posts

I think Bob's suggestion regarding staying the night in Wells, is great. It's a great little town. The Cathedral is fantastic, it's the oldest surviving English Gothic church. It has a beautiful medieval clock, the second oldest working clock in the world. Near the clock is the entrance to the Chapter House.

Posted by Cynthia
Gig Harbor, Washington, USA
1202 posts

We have visited most of your proposed sites. You might consider visiting Glastonbury and Wells on your first day. Wells would be a pleasant overnight stop - it's easier to navigate then Bath........Save Stonehenge for the end of your trip. Have you looked into the possibility of "private access" there? You have to apply in advance and the tours are either early morning or early evening.......Be sure and get your "medieval fix" at Warwick Castle........There's nothing wrong with one-night stops if they work better with your plans.........Don't just rely on Rick Steves books. You should also get a Rough Guide or a Lonely Planet one. Green Michelins are also useful but they are a little harder to use since they are organized alphabetically instead of geographically......If you have more questions, feel free to send me a private message.

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
644 posts

You said you have a 21 year old who loves medieval stuff, and a 15 year old who loves castles. Wales is full of castles, some medieval. My favorite medieval castles in Wales are Caernarfon, Conwy, and Caerphilly. Here is a list of all castles in Wales; click on each one for more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_castles_in_Wales You are not really staying long enough in Wales to see much. You are not specific about where you are going in North or South Wales. Hopefully, this information will help you decide if one of these castles is interesting enough to put on your agenda. Moving to your days in London, you may already be planning to see Windsor Castle and Warwick Castle. I highly recommend that you do. Also, southwest of London, Leeds castle is fantastic. Agree with Cynthia, you need another guidebook or two to round out your knowledge of what to see. "The Rough Guide to England" is great; looking at my copy on the shelf right now. 1216 pages, small map of each region; tells you all about that region.Has a chapter called "Oxford and around" which may be of interest to you. The Lonely Planet series has books by region; they have a book on Wales alone that is quite good, and also Lonely Planet Britain includes Wales.

Posted by Linda
Reading, MA, USA
7 posts

Thank you for all of your advice. I will head to the library tomorrow!

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
889 posts

We have made many trips to England, and my husband always drives. We arrive, get the rental car at Heathrow and off we go; however, he always sleeps for long periods of time on the plane so does arrive pretty rested. Even so, we really limit the number of miles we drive on our first day. We have driven directly to Bath from Heathrow - no problem. On one trip we spent time in Hay-on-Wye (book capital) and from there drove through the Brecons in Wales to Cardiff. By doing that we visited Caernefon castle in Wales which is wonderful. The road through the Brecons was not busy at all (at least when we were there) - very beautiful.

Posted by Sharon
Santa Rosa, CA, USA
889 posts

Sorry - should have said we visited Caerphilly Castle in Wales, not Caernarfon (from the Brecons).

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
644 posts

Let me address your statement, "We heard that the West coast of Wales is beautiful." There are many stunning coastal areas in Britain. With a few exceptions, they are all beautiful. You do not have to drive to the west coast of northern Wales (a long drive for you) to find a beautiful coastline. You will be very close to the southern coast of England when you are at Stonehenge/Salisbury area. Just a short drive south, and there is much beautiful coastline. Also, if you are going to Glastonbury/Glastonbury Tor, you are not very far from Tintagel Castle on the west coast of Cornwall; it's not far. Simply drive in a southwesterly direction. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tintagel_Castle Tintagel is the castle most associated with the legend of King Arthur. The remains of the castle are built into the cliff overlooking the sea. Quite dramatic, windswept, and beautiful. If you want a view of the sea that will take your breath away, this is it. If you want to do South Wales, two locations that are not far from Bristol, England are Cardiff, Wales, on the sea, and nearby Caerphilly Castle (medieval). Do you have a map? Look at these areas and see if they are more convenient for you to include than north Wales. In planning your trip, it's good to be flexible; some things get crossed off the original trip plan, other things get added as you have more information. Whatever you end up doing, have a great trip!

Posted by Rebecca
Nashville, TN, USA
644 posts

Take heed of what you have been told by Bob and Nigel, especially the first two posts. I suggest that you travel from Heathrow to Oxford and stop in Oxford on your first day. Spend the day walking around Oxford (plenty to do there), spend the night in Oxford, then Day 2, begin your planned Stonehenge/Glastonbury/Wells/Bath trip. You will be more refreshed on your second day, and enjoy your trip more.

Posted by Darren
Galt, Calif., UK
135 posts

You could just drive straight to Bath from Heathrow and spend the day just seeing Bath, then do your trip backwards to Stonehenge and back to Bath with one of the other 2 days you have there since South Wales is so close for the other trip you have planned.