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A 2 week wander: Brighton, Winchester, and Oxford

I just finished a quick 2 week trip to southern England. There was a thread a while back about planning trips around a special event/sight and this was one of those.

I have wanted to see The Proclaimers in concert for a couple of years (Sunshine on Leith, Walk 500 Miles) and decided I would have to fly to make it happen. So I bought tickets for the Brighton Dome and later bought flights with miles, adding a couple days before and a few days after.

I ended up with: 4 nights Brighton; 1 night Portsmouth; 3 nights Winchester; 4 nights Oxford. Two weeks including travel days.

Brighton Highlights:
London-Brighton Veteran Car Run - Nigel messaged me about this and it was so fun - a total serendipity. It rained buckets on them as they drove from London, but by mid afternoon arrival in Brighton, the weather was really nice to wander through the cars built between 1893-1905 that still run! One driver even offered me the opportunity to sit behind the steering wheel for a picture!

Royal Pavilion - I am not sure what I expected, but this Chinese-themed Palace was not it. It is beautifully opulent in such a mix of decorative styles and colors (but definitely relying on the Chinese theme) that it was an unexpected feast for the eyes.

Concert - This was everything I had been looking forward to - a great show, if you like their music. Plus I wandered around to the backstage door after the concert and was able to meet them and chat for a few minutes (along with getting a few pictures 🤣). They were wonderfully down to earth and gracious. And it’s unlikely they will be in the U.S. anytime in the foreseeable future - we talked about the difficulties.

Summary: I allowed plenty of time to relax, get over jet lag, and just wander. Which was nice because there was an unusual amount of rain from time to time. However, even for my slow pace, it was probably one night too many. I did have day trip options researched but the amount of pouring rain made spending time outside less interesting.

Portsmouth Highlights:

Chichester - Obviously not in Portsmouth, but instead of stopping in on the way from Brighton to Portsmouth and trying to find something to do with my suitcase, I opted to go all the way to my lodging in Portsmouth, drop off, then double back via the 20 minute train ride. I just wandered through the town, ate late lunch in the Buttery in the Crypt, and then attended evensong (another trip theme) at Chichester Cathedral. This was probably musically the most beautiful of the 4 evensong services I attended.

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard - As others have said, this was fascinating. I spent 4-5 hours and there was more I could have done and seen, but just ran out of energy. The HMS Victory, Nelson’s ship was very interesting. And then there was the Mary Rose Museum. The digital effects really enhanced the experience. And there was a display area where I was able to hold 500 year old artifacts from the ship. That small piece of 500 year old rope was heavy! I took the included Harbour cruise - the Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier was in port and we watched a helicopter landing (there were 4 by the time my short cruise was over). But then it was the train on to Winchester.

Summary: I should have realized how easy reaching the Isle of Wight was from here and planned time for that. Oversight on my part.

Continued…..

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2281 posts

Winchester Highlights:

Winchester itself. In addition to wandering the town on my own, I took a £10 city tour I booked online a couple of days before and it was quite good. On my own, I was able to pop inside the Great Hall for a quick look at King Alfred’s round table (because of so much rain, the Great Hall was closed unexpectedly but the guard let me have a minute anyway); wander Wolvesey Castle, and walk by the house where Jane Austen lived and died. I also attended evensong at Winchester Cathedral.

Lacock - it has been on my list a while but never worked out. So I rented a car for the one day (Enterprise next to the train station) and made the 1 1/2 hr drive. The whole small village of Lacock is a National Trust site and beautiful. I am sure there is plenty of tourist business, but it was really nice to see the school in session (at recess), meaning people DO live there. And of course, if you happen to be a Harry Potter fan, you will know that scenes for the movies were filmed in the cloisters at Lacock Abbey.

Avebury - I have been before but it’s been a while and it is hard to comprehend the size of the stones and the magnitude of the area the multiple circles encompass. And it only cost me about 15 minutes of extra drive time. Well worth the stop, even for a second time. Note at this time the Pay and Display machines only take coins or a membership card or payment via the website (but no cell service…..). No credit cards or bills. You can also pay onsite somewhere.

Summary: With more time, and in some instances with a car, there were many interesting options from either Chichester or Winchester. Either is a nice place to base for a few days.

Oxford Highlights:

Undoubtedly the highlight of this stop was getting to spend part of a day with Nigel and his lovely wife.
But after that -

Bodleian Library guided tour. The 90 minute tour was the only way to see it all and I nabbed the last spot for Sunday afternoon. Definitely worth it! I just wish they allowed photos…..

Christchurch College guided tour - There is an audio guide available but I loved my tour with my 84 year old guide who has been doing this for 20 years in retirement. He said once he had to go ask Bill Clinton to not walk on the grass in the quad. 🤣

Winston Churchill’s grave in Bladon and a tour of Balliol College - both thanks to the Nigels. Each place was both interesting and beautiful.

Evensong in the University Church and in Christchurch College Cathedral.

My Airbnb on Osney Island in Oxford facing the canal. It was a 5 min walk from the train station and 10-15 to the center of Oxford. It really was like a home away from home.

Summary: There were more “sights” I could have seen but I enjoyed just walking the streets. I could have visited a few more colleges but daylight was short and I didn’t try to cram my days. In warmer weather, I would have enjoyed a boat trip on the Thames.

Miles: My flights went through several iterations. I originally booked economy with miles but a fairly high tax (typical for Heathrow). At some point, I wondered why I hadn’t planned to stay longer. So I checked miles flights again and found a much better deal, both in miles and cash plus a couple more days. Cancelled the first trip and rebooked. Then, after more trip research, I had that same thought again…. Oh dear. But I looked and found the same miles and cash to stay an extra couple of days - but this time there was an option for Premium Economy for the return flight for not too many additional miles. Booked. Lesson to myself: keep looking.

Continued…..

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2281 posts

Heathrow: I am not sure I have ever flown out of Terminal 3 before. At about 9:00am for check in, there were few people and short lines as far as I could see. However, Premium Economy got me a fast track line to check in and a fast track line through security. I have no idea if that is typical and had no idea it was coming. But it was nice! Seats were 2/4/2 and plenty wide with a nice amount of knee room and a footrest.

I rode the National Express bus LHR to Brighton and Oxford to LHR and it worked just as it should. And after 6 week and 5 week trips, this 2 weeks whizzed by.

Posted by
397 posts

Your trip sounded great, jealous of the Oxford visit especially. Thanks for all the good detail!

Posted by
5962 posts

Brighton Pavilion is built in an Indian style - China was never part of the British Empire! Glad you enjoyed the trip.

Posted by
2281 posts

Jennifer, obviously you are correct that China was never part of the British Empire. However both the guides at the Pavilion and the website reference the Chinese inspired design in the main rooms. But it is impressive either way! And I had such good notes from you on things to do in the area - I just wasn’t there at the right time of year. :)

Posted by
3138 posts

Sounds like a very nice trip, especially the visit with Nigel and Mrs. Nigel. I'm definitely jealous!!!

Posted by
4932 posts

Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us!
I’m also jealous that you got to visit Nigel and his lovely wife!

Would you please share your accommodations, thanks!

Posted by
5496 posts

Fun to read this, and you obviously had fun too. This made me want to visit Portsmouth, and Winchester again.

Posted by
2065 posts

I'm also jealous, esp. about the Oxford bits,
and the express bus is a good tip, if I can remember it somehow.
(It was a Gatwick to Brighton train where I bought a return ticket not knowing that that meant round trip when I wanted a one-way)

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2281 posts

Thanks, all! Yes, CW and Priscilla, be jealous! 🤣

Dick, I don’t know that I will ever get back , but I did like the area a lot and I missed so much. (Can’t do everything, right?)

avi, I am perfectly willing to admit Oxford was delightful. I had (through less than ideal circumstances) been there once before for a few hours in the summer. I saw the worst - a crowded High Street, lines, and none of the places I had wanted to see. And did not like it. And I hit those crowds again on my first night’s walk after arrival - almost sealed the deal. However, all moments after that were wonderful. So much to see and wander and do. And I was still out at the same time of night every day but never ran into the same crowds again.

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2281 posts

Priscilla, below is where I stayed, with a few comments.

Brighton: Cappadocia Guesthouse, cappadociaguesthouse.co.uk .

Booked direct. This is a small number of rooms over a gift shop and coffee shop. I had a small single en-suite up 3 flights of stairs. It was comfy and cozy, but had its quirks (I look for quirky but not everyone does) and no frills. Easy walking distance to everything. No elevator.

Portsmouth: The George Hotel, thegeorgehotel.org.uk.

Booked direct. Loved this place and could have stayed longer. It is over a pub, which was full of people who live there on my one night (but not noisy). 5 min from the train station, a few blocks from the entrance to the Dockyard, and a block further away that the Premiere Inn. I like Premiere Inns, but can’t imagine staying there as opposed to this historic little place. One of those “go up a flight, turn left, down the hall, up 4 steps, down 4 steps, up one more flight, door on the left after you go up and down 3 steps” places. No elevator.

Winchester: Winchester Royal Hotel, winchesterroyalhotel.com

Through booking.com. Still very typical English, but I saw a lot of grey-haired, nicely dressed couples. :) There’s the hotel proper and then a long wing of rooms connected along the beautiful garden, where I was. Large room and bathroom. I was up one flight of stairs, no elevator.

Oxford: https://abnb.me/ubfCLviC3ub .

I don’t use Airbnb a lot but was not finding what I wanted within the price point I wanted, so I took a look. I loved it. Wonderful hostess. It’s a bit of a walk, as opposed to staying more centrally, but I had no problems with it and was more than happy to walk a few more minutes for the exchange. Like a true BnB, I spent probably an hour at breakfast two mornings talking: once to a mother and daughter from near Bath and once to a couple of young French girls on a Harry Potter search. :) And once to my hostess herself, who has lived in Oxford over 20 years.

Anyway, I feel like what I look for in lodging is different than a lot of people. So take it for what it’s worth. :)

Posted by
2700 posts

I was just in Winchester a couple of months ago and I'm already jealous that you made it there as well. I discovered the other day that Winchester isn't mentioned in the RS guidebooks, so let's not talk about it too much so it stays a quiet place to relax mid-trip.

Posted by
3361 posts

Great report. I’ve never flown to Europe or the UK (yet) to catch an event so I’m happy to read that you’ve created a lovely holiday out of your two weeks after your concert. With the exception of Brighton, we spent time in this area in May and had a very relaxing, scenic time.

Posted by
1792 posts

Lovely report, Gwynn! I'm hoping to get to England in 2024 and will definitely keep this to hand. Everything sounds so interesting! Just out of curiosity, did you go with an eSIM this trip?

Posted by
2281 posts

Haha, Allan! Believe me, I read your trip report. Twice! Should I admit I didn’t check the RS book? I think Chichester would make a great mid-trip stop also.

Thanks, Mona. This was a first for me, also. And you are right, it is so scenic. That drive to Lacock was absolutely beautiful with fall colors AND green fields.

Mardee, there is no shortage of good places to go! This was my 3rd trip to England (not counting the week in July) and it has all been to smaller cities and less crowded areas. So with the eSim, I have basically decided I really don’t want to change physical sims ever again unless absolutely necessary. So I am still topping up the same eSim from Airalo I got in July. I may get the Holiday Orange for next month since I will be gone less than 2 weeks. However, another thought is converting my home # to eSim and keeping an EU physical sim in my phone until esims with a phone number become easier for long trips. I will be researching that in January. 🤣

Posted by
9111 posts

Fabulous trip report! You did 3 things I really enjoyed during my recent two part visit to the UK. Avebury, Lacock and most importantly a day with my friends Nigel and the Mrs. I have to say that your travels inspire me. #travelgoals

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1792 posts

However, another thought is converting my home # to eSim and keeping an EU physical sim in my phone until esims with a phone number become easier for long trips. I will be researching that in January.

Great, let me know what you find out!

Posted by
416 posts

Your trip sounds great. We spent too little time in Oxford on our 1999 trip to England and Scotland, so I'd love to return. And how wonderful that you got to see Nigel and his lovely wife in person! I look forward to seeing some pics!

Posted by
2058 posts

Thanks for a great report.
And you got to meet Nigel!
My late cousin was one of the organisers of the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run for many years, it was a highlight for him!

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2281 posts

Andrea, agreed on the wonderful places and people! And you are one to talk - you do so much when you are traveling. Like the Energizer Bunny! I get slow…..

SJ, that is so cool! I talked to several people who talked about getting absolutely unusually drenched this year. But it was fun for me…. :) The car I got to sit in has done the run for 10 years, but they said they try to take different guests each year.

I know, Barbara. There are too many choices and so much to see. I tried to cover way too much ground my first trip and I like this pace better, but always wish for just a few more days….. and I won’t be there for the December meeting unless the timing catches me in between flights. We’ll see. But January for sure if it’s online!

Will do, Mardee. Some day there will be a better solution.

Posted by
2398 posts

It sounds wonderful even the rain! Maybe I missed it, but did you rent a car or travel solely by train and which town was your favorite?

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2281 posts

Tammy, this trip was:
National Express bus LHR to Brighton,
Trains from town to town,
National Express bus Oxford to LHR.

I only rented a car in Winchester for one day just to drive to Lacock and Avebury and back.

Favorite town? Hmmmm, that’s a hard one. My favorite usually tends to be the last place I was. So my answer always depends on when you ask.

Posted by
4932 posts

Thanks for the list of all your accommodations!
They all look great to me!
😉

Posted by
28786 posts

awww thanks TexasTravelmom

Mrs Nigel loves a day out, as do I especially when it is so much fun

Posted by
3138 posts

January for sure if it’s online!
Oh yes, it will be online, regardless of weather. And perhaps a 2nd day in-person, if the weather permits.