Please sign in to post.

Tour Report Villages of Southern England 5/21-6/2/18

This is a long trip report so if details bother or bore you, stop reading now!

Travel group – Experienced RS tour members, lol. I traveled with my brother, SIL and her sister. This was tour #9 for me, tour #4 for brother and SIL and tour #2 for her sis.

Pre tour days: We met up in the SLC airport with me, brother and Sil flying from N. Idaho and her sis flying there from Seattle with an onward flight to Heathrow. Flight from SLC was slightly delayed with a ground stop due to thunderstorms moving thru the area just as we pushed back from the gate. We arrived at Heathrow at 10:40A, cleared Immigration and were able to catch the Noon coach to Victoria Coach Station. We were at our Lime Tree Hotel by just before 1PM. Tickets were 10£ each.

*Brother and SIL got *sent back at Immigration as the Delta FAs announced you only needed one landing card per family. That is not correct and they had to go back to the start of the line and fill out another card for SIL on her own. UK Immigration officers were very nice, extremely competent and quick. We noted a number of others on our flight who were having to do the same thing. I do usually get a survey from Delta so I indicated this incorrect information was being given.

London: I had us spending 5 nights in London pre-tour as none of the other 3 had been there before (well, brother and SIL’s sis were both there in the 70’s or so but remembered nothing, haha!). I got advanced tickets for the Monet exhibition at the National Gallery and the Cabinet War Rooms but nothing else. With the group we had fairly late starts to each day, not really getting away from the hotel much before 10. I’ve spend a lot of time in London so grouped sights as best I could and tried not to frog march them thru my favorite sights! The group didn’t have anything in particular they wanted to see so I created the daily itineraries. I didn’t figure in any shopping time as I’m not a shopper and in retrospect both SIL and her sis would have appreciated time to snoop around in stores.

In general we did St James’s Park/Trafalgar Sq/Café at St Martin in the Fields/National Gallery/Piccadilly Circus (their request not mine, haha! But we got their Oyster cards at the Tube station there), spent what I thought would be the best weather day at Kew Gardens (out on the District Line to Kew Gardens stop on the Richmond line and back on the ferry which was slightly harder to find than I imagined), did Tower of London/Leadenhall Market and some back streets another day and the last London day we did Cabinet War Rooms and Westminster Abbey. No line at Westminster Abbey when we got there about 2 PM on Harry and Meghan’s wedding day.

My brother had said ahead of time he wasn’t interested in churches so I had some options for him to go to while we three gals did Westminster Abbey. In the end he decided to come with us and was shocked he enjoyed it so much. He asked one of the docents a question which got the docent started on stories plus he showed us where Stephen Hawking‘s ashes are set to be interred. That was cool. I know in Italy the opulence of St Peter’s Basilica really bothered my brother and I tried to tell him the British Cathedrals are much different but he needed to see that on his own.

Pre-tour Canterbury: We traveled out to Canterbury on a Sunday, the day before the tour started. The city was rammed all week with school groups from both UK and France but we managed to find some great time along the Stour River path out to some conservation areas. Very lovely along here and we enjoyed nice walks along here every day. There is plenty to see in Canterbury for at least a day or 2 ahead of the tour. We did not see much in town on the tour except Canterbury Cathedral so you’ll want to do your own research to find what’s of interest to you.

Continued....

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued....

Thoughts on the tour:
Fitness level: I had read a number of Trip Reports for this tour indicating it was strenuous. I found that to be the case for me on a couple of days but otherwise it seemed just active. I did participate in most activities and some days added in extra walking time. The most strenuous days to me were the days we had to climb the hill to the hotel in Penzance and when did St Michael’s Mount with it’s rough cobbled path to the top and stairs without rails. We were there on a dry day and I still slipped coming down, I’d hate to do this on a wet day. Shoes with a good grippy tread are essential. The other strenuous day was Tintagel BUT I am a height chicken and I just couldn’t even go out there. I’m basing this on reports from others, lol!! I kept track of mileage/steps which gives me a rough estimate of the ground we covered. My FitBit doesn’t seem to count if I’m holding onto my purse with my FitBit arm, lol, so I know some days undercounted, some likely overcounted. I estimate we walked 43 miles over our pre tour days in London and Canterbury and did about 59 miles over the course of the tour. If you plan to do this tour, I’d work on being able to do 5 miles a day comfortably plus add in stairs, balance training (I use a BOSU) and work on feet strength so you can manage on the cobbles at St Michael’s Mount.

Capsule wardrobe: I took mostly the same things I packed for my 2 trips last year in May and September. My capsule colors were black/aqua/cobalt. My wardrobe included 5 SS tee shirts (black/white/aqua Merino wool/aqua Lands End/cobalt Lands End), 2 cardies (black and cobalt), 1 LS shirt (LE gray check heat crew – heading to Scotland so had that for another layer), 4 pr bottoms (1 pr blue jeans, 1 pr gray jeans, 1 pr black Costco travel pants, 1 pr black capris) ,1 Cabela’s waterproof jacket, 2 pr Altra Zero Drop shoes, 1 pr Leguano minimalist shoes for wearing in the hotel, underwear, socks. I added a LS Dri-fit quarter (or maybe half)-zip Ideology top from Macy’s. I had bought this as an emergency purchase, lol, when I traveled to FL in January and realized as I got to my departure city I was wearing my faded, old waffle weave layering top instead of the newer, nicer one. This shirt is an absolute workhorse. I think I wore it part of every single day for the 35 days we were gone! Next time I will cut one of the cardies as this worked much better. It folds up small enough I could stash it in my purse but adds enough of a layer that it kept me warm on chilly mornings and it easily washed in the sink and dried overnight. I did sink wash (in a 2-gal reinforced ziplock) for the 5 weeks we were gone. The jeans are cotton/poly blends that mostly dry overnight – needed about 24 hours on damp days. I only wore one pair of the shoes, the others did not leave my suitcase except to be re-packed. They are Altra Lone Peak trail shoes and were excellent. I also wore them last year so they are travel tested. Next time I would probably add in a sunshirt traveling this time of year.

Continued....

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued...

Packing: I’ve been using the RS 21” wheelie since about 2015 and I’m pleased with it. I do check it but managed this time without having to expand it on the way home, haha! My change this time was in my packing cubes. I have used the Eagle Creek Spectre compression cubes for a number of years but purchased some new cubes which were offered by Travel Fashion Girl on her blog. I REALLY liked them! She designed them to sit vertically in a carry on rather than stacking them and they worked really, really well. Some stops I didn’t take them out of the suitcase, but could still access the contents. They are a little heavier than the Spectre cubes but the extra few ounces does not make a difference to me altho it might to those in the competitive light packing camp. I have no connection to her blog but am satisfied with her product. Here’s her initial post that shows how they sit in a suitcase. I used 3 in my suitcase – 1 for shirts, 1 for cardies and the long sleeve shirt, 1 for unders/socks/pjs. I used the 4th as my “back-of-the-plane-seat” cube with my iPad Mini, eye mask, glasses case, mints, tissues, pillow etc.

https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/my-new-packing-cubes/

Weather: Weather was a mixed bag. It was downright hot a couple of days but others were cloudy and cool. We had a few days of rain but not as many as I thought. My clothes worked pretty well. It was hot enough to wear the capris several days but not so hot I was having to wash them at night and hope they were dry enough to wear the next AM!

Tour hotels: (I’m listing these as there has been so much comment lately on hotels. I don’t have a problem stating where we stayed. I paid for the tour, enjoyed it and am willing to share information to help others make a decision on taking a tour.)
-Abode Canterbury – this was a nice hotel and well located on the High Street. I think the tours often stay at the Canterbury Lodge on the Cathedral grounds which probably has more charm but this hotel had AC, elevator and a good comfortable bed. I get the single supplement and had a Queen bed and huge room here.

-The Star Inn, Alfriston – this was a one night stop. No elevator (but many of the single supp rooms were on the ground floor), no AC, fan in room. This was a twin bedded room and the mattress was comfortable.

-Rose and Crown, Salisbury – This 13th century coaching inn turned hotel has charm and is beautifully located on the river with lovely outdoor space. Unfortunately it is also a popular wedding/reception venue. No elevator, no AC, no fan (I asked 2 different people). The bed was a queen, slightly worn mattress and the least comfortable bed on the trip. My room faced the terrace area so I heard the reception altho the folks who had rooms facing away from this area did not have noise. I used my iPhone White Noise app and was able to go to sleep both nights (Friday and Saturday). It was complicated by the fact that it was fairly hot weather on our days here and without the fan I really needed the window to be open. In the end, I closed it, pulled the drapes and used the white noise app. In case anyone is interested, apparently disco balls and 80’s music are popular for young people, hahaha! This hotel did have absolutely the very best breakfast buffet of any of the tour hotels. Wow.
-3 Crowns, Chagford – No elevator, no AC, no fan, steep steps up to 1st floor. I had a room over the driveway back into either a car park or delivery area so I had cross ventilation with a window in the bedroom and one in the bathroom. No fan needed for me, in fact I got cold here and had to shut windows in the night! The absolute best bed (Queen) of the whole trip. My word, it was comfortable. Nice view out the window of the cemetery and the cute 8-sided building in the square.

Continued....

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued...

-Hotel Penzance, Penzance – No elevator, no AC. Did have fan and my room here had a stunning view of St Michael’s Mount from the queen bed. Very comfortable mattress. This hotel is up an exceedingly steep hill and did not seem close to interesting things or to be centrally located. I will admit that I stayed in one night when everyone else went out to dinner because I couldn’t face walking back up that hill. We were here 3 nights. I did not really enjoy Penzance at all. Hotel was very nice, just did not enjoy the location.

-Henrietta House, Bath – Elevator, no AC, did have a fan. Bed was a double and was fine. Well-located just off Pulteney Bridge.

Bank Holiday and Half-term: I understood what Bank Holiday meant but had no idea the impact of Half-term holidays on visiting popular sites. The Brits on the forum always mention this but I just didn’t realize what they meant. Now I see – Daytona Beach at Spring Break back in the day. I will carefully plan around these holidays next time! I also hadn’t realized the impact French school kids would have on Canterbury either. It’s an easy trip across the channel and apparently very popular for end of year excursions. The kids seemed to be having a fantastic time practicing their English and buying up gobs and gobs of candy, hahaha! (I wondered why there were so many candy stores along the shopping streets…)

Food: I never know what to say about food. I’m vegan and Robert was able to organize vegan meals for every group meal we had. He warned us that one day we had a group meal - a Ploughmans lunch at a pub on Dartmoor - that he wasn’t sure what we’d get. We got a huge chunk of baguette and big salad which was delicious and filling but the 3 of us generally carry back up snacks anyway. Robert also said in his 30 years of guiding he’d never had vegans on his tours so he was slightly shocked when 3 of us turned up on his list for this tour date. We may have convinced him we are sort of normal, hahaha! Or not. We threatened him with recommending all future vegan travelers be put on his tours.

Guide and driver: Robert, the guide, usually does Best of Scotland. He also does the London tours and has also done the Best of Britain (as they call it and a much more apt description since it includes Wales). He’s guided for Rick since 2012 but has guided for many different companies over his 30+ years. I found him to be very easy-going and so well-informed and able to teach history to us so easily! I knew he had an astonishing breadth and depth of knowledge but he really surprised me when, on the last day and Dan the driver moved onto a smaller road that is usually not the main route, he started describing some of the things in the smaller towns we were passing thru. He’d clearly visited the area before and knew so much. He also knew everyone’s name by at least Day 2. He seemed to divide his time among all tables and groups. I was sitting next to him one dinner and encouraged the folks to start eating even though I hadn’t gotten my vegan plate yet. He said he never took a bite of food until he saw that everyone had been served and was happy with their meal, that way if they were unhappy he could offer his untouched meal to them. (No, I didn’t want his salmon!) Dan the driver was very skilled and a lot of fun. We enjoyed meals and breaks with him. Funnily enough, Robert told us toward the end of the trip that when he and Dan were off eating together Dan was scoping out menus for options for the vegans. Hahaha! I do love that the bus drivers are part of the group!

Continued....

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued....

On Meeting Locals: Often people on this site post that they want to meet locals and pubs are sometimes suggested. I’m not big on pubs but my brother and I inadvertently found a good method. We are casual birders so we would just head out with the binoculars early in the AM when all the locals were out walking their dogs. We did this in Canterbury, walking along the River Stour and almost could not get any birding in because so many people wanted to stop and talk. We’d nod and say hello and really, they couldn’t seem to help themselves when they heard a tourist accent. We got so many good tips about what to see as they all seemed so proud of their city and wanted us to have the very best time. Very fun! In Bath we happened upon a group who had a spotting scope set up on a nesting box of peregrine falcon chicks located on the river side of the RC church. Fun talking to them and hearing about the recovery efforts. Plus if the peregrine population revives it should do wonders with the overpopulation of pigeons there! So…take your travel binoculars (good for looking at the inside of cathedrals as well), develop a mild interest in birding and meet your local folks.

Group: As always, this was a very fun group. I am usually a solo traveler but this time I was with family. There were 6 women with single supplements altho 2 of those had done an RS tour before and came on this tour together, and 2 were my SIL’s sis and me, so 2 women on their own. There was a couple in their 30’s as the youngest on the tour and the rest were spread out probably over the ages of 40s/50s/60s. The oldest was probably around late 70s. There was a variety of backgrounds, all eager to learn and enjoy.

**Favorite quip from a tourmate was at breakfast early on when he was served English bacon –“Well, this is not actually bacon, it’s bacon adjacent.”

Itinerary: I haven’t visited Southern England much but did do a Road Scholar program for 6 nights in Cornwall last year so I’ve seen a little bit of that area. I think this Rick Steves itinerary suffers a bit and could use some modification as there are so many jaw-dropping sights along the coast or slightly inland. I’ve done lots of Rick tours as well as 10 Road Scholar tours. I’m not usually critical of an itinerary as that is usually the basis on which I book the tour but there just seemed to be some things that didn’t work as well as I know they can. In general, I also find I like the Rick itineraries better than Road Scholar ones and while this one was good it could be MUCH better. I have also done Rick’s Best of Britain tour so I know what can be done in England and Wales.

-I did not get the point of Day 4 as it just seemed like a drive from one location to another. It WAS a rainy day so perhaps might have been more interesting if the weather had been fair. I know Rye, our first stop and our lunch stop is a well-loved town and often mentioned for day trips. I just didn’t think it offered much but maybe I didn’t do enough research ahead of time. Pevensey Castle was in a rain so we did not stay long. We also hit Seven Sisters/Beachy Head in a rain and stiff wind so it was a quick stop. Basically it just seemed like a transfer day with not much of note going on.

-I did not like the Penzance location at all. I’m not sure if the whole town is slightly run down or just the part I saw near the train station. Others might certainly have differing opinions, but I just felt like there are dozens of more interesting places to stay for 3 nights. On the Road Scholar tour we stayed 6 nights in Falmouth and I found that SO much more charming and interesting. It was also flatter, lol.

Continued....

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued...

-St Ives was a disappointment but it was also a weekday during half term so was teeming with families. I enjoyed the harbor towns I saw on the Road Scholar tour much more. Those included St. Mawes, Mevagissey, Boscastle, Fowey and Charlestown.

-Lanhydrock Gardens – I thought these were just OK. I had seen the Lost Gardens of Heligan last year and thought them more interesting and varied but they did not have the big house that Lanhydrock does.

-Tintagel – I did not understand why the tour doubles back to Tintagel after having been very close to there on the Port Isaac day. It seems very much out of the way to return there and then make your way on to Bath. I’d put it on the same day as Port Isaac.

-Last day/Return to Bath day – This was a mess. We drove from Penzance to Bath via Tintagel on the Friday of Half-term. The traffic jams on the motorway were awful and there was not much Dan, the excellent driver, could do. When he was close enough he did dive off the Motorway and take back roads in to Bath. I will suggest on my eval that this day should just be heading to Bath in the AM with a walking tour of Bath after lunch and free time before dinner. Many on the tour had not gotten their train or bus tickets either back to the airport or on to their next location and were thinking they would have time to do it this afternoon. We got to the hotel around 615, and we were out to walk to dinner at 630 so absolutely no time for them to get anywhere before the farewell dinner. Only had time to throw down the bag, make a quick pit stop and out so that led to some people being slightly freaked out about their departure plans. Robert our excellent guide did do a quick walking tour after dinner but it was 915 by that time and we had to move quickly! He covered a lot in an hour but I don’t think he was happy with how the day turned out. I think he felt he had not been able to do his best tour of Bath with the time limitations he had. In short, head directly to Bath from the last hotel (which in my book would be Falmouth over Penzance) and have a walking tour plus free time for people to organize onward travel.

Wow moment: Lots of very cool things but I think my favorite day was the Dartmoor day with the stop at the Clapper Bridge, seeing the Neolithic alignment/stone circle/burial chambers and yes, wild ponies and their babies. This day was gorgeous with blue skies and bright sun. The bluebells, red campion and other unidentified wildflowers were blooming in a riot of color in the fields and along the verges. A perfect day! Next most favorite tour moment? The tour of the stained glass studio at Canterbury Cathedral, talking with the artists and looking at a piece of 13th century stained glass just lying on a workbench. The studio guide had a microscope set up to look at it closely and it was amazing to think of the hands that have touched this thru the years.

Unexpected sight: Harris’s Hawks used for pigeon patrol! After the tour of the Canterbury Cathedral stained glass studio my brother and I headed back into the cathedral cloister to see the installation of stained glass panels done by one of the artists who spoke with us. As we were standing in the Cloister a Harris’s Hawk zoomed thru and landed nearby. He was followed by his falconer, Conan, and we were able to chat briefly with him and take a look at Harry the hawk up close. We are birders and this was just fantastic. Next episode, waiting for a train at Kings Cross and by gosh…there was a Harris’s Hawk in use there as well! They seem to be very effective at chasing the pigeons out! This one went into an office for a break (with his falconer) and the pigeons came back in but as soon as he was on duty again (we could hear the jangle of the tethers) they beat it out of there.

Continued...

Posted by
8065 posts

Continued...

Bottom line: I had a very good time on this tour. I very much enjoyed the sharp wit of Robert, our guide, and the variety of sights we saw – Neolithic to WWII. I think it can stand some improvement given the huge choice of cool places to stay and sights to see in Southern England. However, I also think any Anglophile would enjoy this tour as is or if the itinerary is modified.

The end!

Posted by
905 posts

Great report, Pam. Detailed and seasoned with wit and an honest evaluation of the details. Thanks.

Posted by
2239 posts

Thanks for posting such a nicely detailed trip report.

Thanks also for mentioning St. Mawes - I spent few days there way back in 2001 and really enjoyed it and Falmouth.

Posted by
2686 posts

Thanks so much for the info about the Travel Fashion Girl packing cubes. I may consider these when I'm not in the "competitive"(haha) packing light mode(backpack, no rollaboard) . It looks like their verticality would definitely work better to organize a rolling bag.

Posted by
4573 posts

Thanks, Pam, very interesting and well written. I like your topical organization more than a day-by-day itinerary. I've stayed at the Hotel Penzance, very nice rooms and views but not a great location (except for the view) and I found the management unresponsive and pretentious. My wife took a fall stepping from one public room to another (those old buildings on different levels) and the first thing they did was ask her to sign a waiver. Nice restaurant though.

Posted by
37 posts

Thanks for the great trip report. This tour is on my list. I've seen other reports that some days seemed rushed. I wonder if the itinerary will change next year. I'd love to travel with you again.

Posted by
9329 posts

I don't understand something....if it's really hot and the room has no A/C and no fan, do you not ask the hotel if they have any fans? I always do and only once did the hotel not have a fan I could use.

I also travel with a small one that plugs into a power bank. Very small but keeps me cool if necessary.

Posted by
8065 posts

Frank, yes, indeed...I did ask for a fan in Salisbury. The first reception guy I asked was not a native English speaker and from his reply (it's in the wardrobe) I was not sure he knew what I wanted. The only thing in the wardrobe was a blowdryer so I thought maybe he was confused. I said no, I looked and there is not one there and he kept saying It's in the wardrobe. I waited and asked another reception person and nope, no fans. My brother had asked for one as soon as everyone was checked in and did get one but they evidently only had a few.

Thanks to all for the comments!

Regarding the TravelFashionGirl cubes. The do take some trial packs to work out how to fit things in there best. I was used to flat packing the Eagle Creek compression cubes and these are much narrower than that. I finally lined up the shirts with the cube, folded the sides in to accommodate the cube width and then folded in 4ths. That way the thick fold was toward the zipper opening kind of like file folders and they were easy to get out with the cube still packed.

Dick, yes, I can see fall that happening. I didn't have much interaction with staff there, though. I did enjoy the restaurant!

Posted by
1910 posts

Pam, thank you for your wonderful trip/tour report. As always, it is beautifully written, very comprehensive, eminently readable and full of great information! As you know, I'm doing the Scotland tour after a few days in London with some friends who have never been. I will be using your London itinerary as a basis for ours. I love the way you have posted this in sections that are important to casual, tour-taking travelers and think I might check out the recommended new packing cubes. I am glad to hear you needed some practice to figure out how to best make them work for you. They definitely look mighty skinny to me! Robert sounds great-you say he does Scotland tours, too, eh?!? Again, thank for the great report. Scotland's review next?

Posted by
37 posts

Hi Pam. I was curious about the tin mine tour. Does it go underground? I was disappointed in our Cornwall tour last fall of the tin mine area.

Posted by
4485 posts

Thanks, Pam. Great report.

When we took this tour (inaugural tour, May 2016) we also stayed at the Penzance. We had a gorgeous room, but also found the staff less than helpful. I can't remember what our need was, but I ended up feeling as though we were in their way.

We did walk into town several times, and didn't find the distance a problem.

Lizat1632, our tour did go underground at the tin mine, and it was a highlight of the tour.

Posted by
8065 posts

Hahaha, Andi. Yes, I’ll start working on the Scotland TR tomorrow!!

Re the tin mine- Elizabeth,Yes, it went underground at the end and there was an exit for those of us who didn’t want to do that part. The Tin mine local guide did an excellent job of describing that part of the tour including the number of steps and the height of the shafts you visit. I did not go in so I can’t give you a first hand account. You know how we walked down the road then cut to the left on the dirt path? This time we did all the buildings on the right which is the museum/demonstration area, then walked thru the separating sheds. The guide was young and remembers visiting the mine as a kid on school trips. His Dad and uncle worked there.

Posted by
600 posts

I enjoyed your trip report! Thank you so much for all the excellent details!

Posted by
11246 posts

Thanks for posting these details - great report!

Posted by
373 posts

Thanks Pam for sharing your experiences. It is so helpful to read the specifics of what people enjoyed as well as the aspects they felt could be improved. We all have our own filters, and honest (and engaging) reports like yours help with decisions about the when/where/how/who of travel.
We were initially set to do this tour instead of Best of England, but were concerned about the rigor. (Our Best of England tour was tough because of stairs, but not that strenuous otherwise compared to our other tours.) I especially appreciate your take on the itinerary. Since this is a relatively new tour for the RS company, hopefully they are paying attention to such thoughtful feedback.

Posted by
2545 posts

Pam, fantastic tour report! I loved all the details you included!
I especially enjoyed reading about the Harris Hawks on duty, the falconer, and the stained glass workshop at Canterbury Cathedral! Dartmoor sounds wonderful with the ponies, stone circles and barrows!
Thanks for taking the time to write this trip report. Excellent writing and a fun read!

Posted by
2020 posts

What an outstanding report, Pam. Thank you! It was great imaging I was there instead of where I am!

Posted by
8065 posts

Thank you all for reading and for the comments.

I am an unapologetic RS tour fan and I know Rick and other staff read comments. I think for me it's also better to have a bit of time to reflect on a tour before offering suggestions. The mornings after staying in the hotel in Salisbury I might have recommended they never use that hotel on summer Friday and Saturday nights! With some time, I realized, yes, I did sleep and was truly grateful for the White Noise App! It's a charming place, gorgeous site, easy to get in to town and much nicer than the hotel I stayed in in Salisbury on a Road Scholar tour. Breakfast buffet was fantastic and put the rest of the hotels in the shade.

Darcy!!!!!

Posted by
8065 posts

Very odd statement re bacon......

Uh, the US bacon is generally pork belly, UK bacon is I think generally from the mid-back of the hog. For someone who hasn't traveled outside the US and is expecting bacon to look like a crispy strip of US bacon, UK bacon is a bit of a shock. Probably goes the other way too. The guy was just referring to the location of the cuts and I'm pretty sure he had some hog-butchering experience!

Posted by
86 posts

Hi Pam, enjoyed your detailed report. DH and I were on this trip last May and had better weather and no crowds, which was great. We only do 2 to 4 miles walking at home and didn't find walking on the tour too strenuous, however, the very steep uneven paths with no railings at St Michaels Mount and Tintagel are definitely an issue! We have gone to packing tri-fold walking sticks on our travels (one stick for each person) which are extremely lightweight, fit easily into a small backpack with our jackets, and can be whipped out and used at a moment's notice. They have made us feel much more secure in those situations.

Posted by
8065 posts

Hey Kathy/GAS buddy! Yes, a hiking stick would have been really beneficial at times. I do use one here when hiking and will look for a folding one as you suggest!

Posted by
56 posts

Pam, thank you for the thoughtful, detailed trip report. Its good to hear the things to watch out for because you aren't going to get that when reading the RS description of the tour! Sounds like this relatively new tour needs some tweaking, and especially they need to be mindful of local holidays when putting it together. Getting into Bath late, as you did, for your final night was terrible and the folks who put this together need to know that traveling long distances on a holiday weekend Friday delays are to be expected. Sounds like they forgot to allow for such contingencies. We had an unexpected delay of 45 minutes on our BOE tour when one of our members got lost at Hadrian's Wall and the delay made our coach driver within 3 minutes of being over his legal driving time in getting us to York. The RS folks need to make allowances for unexpected events.

Posted by
8065 posts

"The RS folks need to make allowances for unexpected events."

I think in general they do but there is no way you can allow flex time of 1 - 2 hours on random dates when the tours are fairly tightly scheduled.

On my 2015 Best of England tour we were radically late getting in to London on the train. The original train we were to take from York hit a horse north of York and was severely delayed. The train we got on an hour later had our train's worth of people and that train's worth of people, then there was a track broken about an hour south of York. We waited for at least an hour there, other trains were cancelled and all piled on to our train. You literally could not get thru the aisles. Tom, the guide, struggled to get to all of us and recommend we try to eat on the train. Some of us had brought food anyway, others dipped into their stashes of snacks as there was really no way to navigate thru the crush to the buffet car. We were seriously late to our tour of Westminster Abbey but understood that taking time to have even 45 minutes for lunch would put us totally out of time for this important site. Some picked up food as we hurried thru the train station to the coach and ate on the way to the Abbey. There is absolutely no way a tour itinerary can be built with time for this kind of unusual event.

Same with the Half-term holiday traffic. Half-term is an event that might happen to 2 tour departures a year. Not sure an itinerary should be changed for that alone, BUT I did think it would work better to drive directly back to Bath on that day, half term traffic or not.

What surprised me was that people did not have their exit plans in place or some did not seem aware of their options. This information is given well-ahead of time on the tour portal. Some were fairly experienced travelers but I'm an overplanner so that's what makes me comfortable.

Thank you for your comments.

Posted by
931 posts

Pam - as usual a fabulous trip report. I really appreciate your candor regarding the sites, itinerary, and hotels. Like you I am a planner and it would have freaked me out to find myself at the end of the tour with no exit plans/tickets. I wonder if the RS tours ever completely change cities like you are suggesting might be better? I enjoyed following your trip on fb - great pics of the beautiful places you got to visit. Thanks for sharing with us!

Posted by
86 posts

We used these poles which collapse down to just 15" long and assemble instantly. Many other similar ones are on Amazon:
https://www.pariaoutdoorproducts.com/products/tri-fold-alloy-ul-trekking-poles
The TSA site says hiking poles have to go in checked luggage, but we took ours to & from Colorado on planes last week in our carry-on and no one objected. This particular model doesn't have a dagger-like tip so maybe that's why. Or maybe we just look like old people who need canes!

Posted by
277 posts

Pam, I enjoyed your tour report. I appreciate your frank analysis of hotels, tour stops and the tour in general. You are a pro at all this, so it's great to read your honest evaluation. I understand about "bank holidays". We were in London on the US Memorial Day which was a bank holiday in London. There was a marathon in London and we couldn't figure out how to get to the Churchill War Rooms. The runners were on the streets that we needed to cross. We finally figured out that to get across the street we had to go down the subway steps and come out on the other side. We were jinxed again in Paris last September, when we were trying to get to our Eiffel Tower tour and had to deal with another marathon on the streets. Only one entrance was open to the Eiffel tower so it was very crowded. We were glad we had booked a tour instead of doing it on our own.

I'm looking forward to your Scotland report.

Posted by
8065 posts

Just adding the link to the Best of Scotland tour Trip Report. I also added General Comments for both tours at the end of that one.

https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/tours/tour-report-best-of-scotland-june-6-june-15-2018

Nance...wish you and Michael were in some of those pictures!

Kathy, thanks for the pole link.

Janet...2 marathons? LOL! We had trouble getting from St James's Park across the Horse Guards Parade so I just canned that part of my walking tour and headed my folks to Trafalgar Square.

Thanks to all on your comments!

Posted by
369 posts

Hi Pam

I noticed that there are several changes to the Southern England tour for 2019. I was wondering if you get a chance, if you could look at the new itinerary and see if it addresses some of the issues that you had with the old one. Southern England is on my list but I'm off on the Best of Portugal this year. Thanks for your wonderful trip reports.

Leslie

Posted by
18 posts

Wonderful report with so much helpful information and impressions. I had Robert on the Best of Scotland, and also was amazed at his depth of knowledge. He is a terrific guide and keeps everyone on time and moving.

Posted by
8065 posts

Leslie, I had not noticed the itinerary changed, so thanks for mentioning that.

Here are my thoughts:

Days 1/2/3 - looks the same. Days 2 and 3 were fabulous.

Day 4 - Putting in Battle Abbey/Battle of Hastings. Yes, this is a good change. Many of us wondered why we didn't do Battle Abbey. As mentioned Rye did nothing for me altho I always see it mentioned as a neat place to go. Pevensey Castle was not much. I have not been to Battle Abbey so can't compare.

5 - Same

6 - Free time in Salisbury is good altho I didn't have any problem with doing Stonehenge in the afternoon. This will give people a chance to go to Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral which is fabulous. I do love Salisbury and have visited several times. There is a neat small museum there with lots of Neolithic stuff. They also have a nice exhibit space where a few years ago I saw a wonderful Constable show. It was fantastic. It will also give people time to walk thru the water meadow to see the Constable views of the Cathedral or perhaps explore some of the houses that are open in the Cathedral Close. Lots to do here in my mind.

7 - I see Stonehenge is in the AM with the drive via Corfe Castle in the afternoon. We did a steam train ride in the AM which was OK. I'm not a steam train person so kind of boring and a waste of time in my book so glad they've cut it. Funny thing - Dan, the bus driver was going to wait in the station for his Dad who is a volunteer on the steam train railroad, lol!!

8 - Same and a fabulous day

9 - They've cut Port Isaac and done Tintagel today which I think is good. I've visited Port Isaac twice and while I was thrilled with the idea before the first visit it's so overrun with tourists that it is not a pleasure. It's a pain to get to and you've seen the Doc Martin sights in an hour or so. I am sure there are people who will be disappointed but I think it's a good change.

10/11 - Same

12 - Yes! This is MUCH better. You'll get to Bath early afternoon and it will allow time to see some of Bath as well as allow people to organize their onward travel if they've not done so. I also love Bath and have spent days here over several visits.

So...all in all it looks like good changes to me. Some sights have been dropped in favor of a less frantic schedule and more free time.

Posted by
1910 posts

Interestingly, Pam's notes above are in line with what our itinerary was for this tour a couple of years ago. They do experiment with scheduled stops, often based on feedback we all give when we send in our tour reviews. I enjoyed our day at Hastings/Battle Abbey; it was terrific and we didn't even go to Port Isaac.

Posted by
369 posts

Thanks so much Pam for taking the time to look at that. My first tour was the Best of England in 2006 and I loved it so much that I'm excited that there is another option to visit parts of England that weren't covered with that one. I am also glad so see that they really do look at customer feedback. Enjoy your travels this year and I will be looking forward to another great trip report.

Leslie

Posted by
4485 posts

I'm glad to see Battle Abbey is back in. It was on the 2016 tour, and we loved it. Hint: read some of the Brother Cadfael books to learn about how abbeys were run, and the roles they played in the community.

Posted by
50 posts

Hi Pam

I'm excited about the new 2019 itinerary. Skipping Pt Issac is a positive for me as it's really not that exciting to basically go to a movie set with lots of other tourists. Getting into Bath earlier is also good. I'm hoping to do this in late May.

Posted by
8065 posts

Waving hellooo! Just posted on your thread and didn’t click on your name! Yes, you will definitely like this tour. Very little overlap.

Posted by
2 posts

Thank you Pam for your report. My wife and I have registered for this tour next June and appreciate your insights and travel ideas!
Jeff

Posted by
8065 posts

Jeff, I know you all will have a great time!! I hope you can get to Canterbury a day early and stay in Bath a couple of days after if you haven’t visited there before.