My travel companion and I (retired American women in our 60s) completed an amazing two-week tour of England and Wales in January 2017. Although months in the planning (read all of Rick's guides, studied the packing tips, and shopped extensively in the on-line store) what is remarkable about our trip is that we avoided London and major cities altogether, did not go to any of the recommended destinations, and came in contact with zero Americans. Yet we covered 800 plus miles in our rental car, stayed in the most unique, historic accommodations (some we just stumbled upon!) met dozens of interesting, friendly locals eager to talk with us, and enjoyed delicious locally-sourced traditional English and Welsh meals. What surprised us was the number of folks we met who had traveled in the US, and the number of folks in the north of Wales who speak Welsh as a primary language.
We flew into Heathrow, and set out immediately in our rental car (frankly, getting away from Heathrow and London was a nail-biter) and headed for our booked accommodation in Swalcliffe, Oxfordshire in the Cotswolds. This small village (population 210) with settlements dating back to the Iron Age and Roman occupation, now consists of the 12th century parish church, a 15th century medieval barn/museum, the manor house, and 17th century farmhouses and cottages, many 2-storied thatched structures, as was the Stag's Head Public House where we stayed. The owners of the Stag's Head could not have been more welcoming and friendly to two frazzled travelers. Our room, one of two to let, was clean, comfortable and cozy. We were included in Bridge club, quiz night, and enjoyed delicious meals, all in the pub. We headed out the next morning for our next destination, the village of Heptonstall in West Yorkshire, where we had rented for 5 days a self-catering accommodation called The Barn. A friend from Lancashire joined us. Heptonstall is a lovely village with tea room, two pubs and a charming post office/convenience shop, and the cemetery where poet Sylvia Plath is buried! We took day trips to Whalley and Ribchester to see a wonderful Roman museum, two ancient churches and the ruins of the Whalley Abbey. From Heptonstall we drove to Caernarfon, North Wales, and stayed 2 nights in the Black Boy Inn built circa 1522. We took all our meals in the inn-delicious fish and chips, vegetable and meat pies, full Welsh breakfasts, good porridge, and sticky toffee pudding. An afternoon was spent walking around the walled-in town, the castle, and the waterfront. On the recommendation of a local, we drove a coastal road around the Llyn Penisula, beautiful scenery and water views, and stopped in Aberdaron, where we discovered an historic church, coffee shop, post office (had postcards to mail) and delightful chatty locals. We then headed south through Snowdonia and the Cambrian mountains, and many small hamlets and villages with no particular destination. At the end of the day we crossed the one-lane, wooden Penmaenpool Toll Bridge. We told the toll-taker that we were looking for accommodation for the night. She pointed us to the George III Hotel just over the bridge. What good luck! In the pub we chatted with hotel guests, and locals who had come in for dinner. The next day we headed east to Hay on Wye through the stunning Brecon Beacons National Park. We arrived after dark, on a foggy, misty night and literally stumbled upon the Baskerville Hall Hotel, a wonderful, quirky, 1839 Jacobean building steeped in history and intrigue. Fortunately for us we arrived on a Wednesday, and enjoyed Open Acoustic night in the pub, 20 or so locals showed up with a variety of instruments and jammed for two hours, tunes interspersed with readings and poetry. We loved it so we stayed 2 nights, toured charming Hay on Wye before driving to Heathrow, dropping off the car, and relaxing in our "luxury" airport hotel room before our flight home. The whole trip was magical.