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Recent Visit to the Sunny UK

My wife and I, with two of our late teen children just got back from a 13-day self-guided tour of parts of England and Wales. Sharing the itinerary (over several posts) here for others to use. From what we experienced, it never seems to rain in the UK. :^) Everyday was Sunny and 80.

A sub theme of our vacation included hiking the highest mountain peaks in England (Scaffell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon), which we did on two separate cloudless days and gave us views all the way to places as far away as Ireland. But you can easily reuse this itinerary removing those day activities, which we launched from Keswick England and Conwy Wales. We also did more low-land hiking in Chipping Camden. Tip to other hikers, these peaks listed here are treeless and on hot days, you need to start early and avoid the heat of the day. On this trip, our interest was more about enjoying the countryside and seeing a few things in London that we wanted to see.

General Trip Itinerary Summary –

• (PART 1 - WITHOUT A CAR) 3 days in London (with an immediate side trip directly from the airport right to Windsor Castle) and 1 day/overnight in York.

• (Part 2 - WITH A CAR) Rent a car Day 5 in York, then drive on to Keswick, for 2 nights Conwy Wales for 2 nights, Iron Bridge Gorge for 1 night, Chipping Campden for 2 nights, near Heathrow Spa for last night. Generally a counter-clockwise rotation from London and back again.

Having been to the UK before, although 25 years ago, I knew that keeping us moving Day #1 was going to be important, so we could make a single night conversion to the new time zone. So I preplanned the first few days heavily and let the rest of the trip float as to what we would do each day. This included getting my wife and daughter tickets to see Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theater, which end up costing us about 1/3 or what we would have paid in New York if the tickets were available.

Notes: By shopping months in advance, I prepaid for as many things as I could that I knew for sure we wanted to see/do. For example, a full month before the trip I bought the 4 London Underground/Tube cards with 20 pounds on each and had them shipped to me. Eliminates need to use on-site machines. Just tap and go at the Tube entrance turnstiles. You can order them here: https://www.visitbritainshop.com/world/london-visitor-oyster-card/. I also made sure before I left home that my credit cards would work (without foreign transaction fees), my cell phone would work, and I paid more to make sure my rental car had Sat Nav and was an automatic.

TIP – DON’T TEXT ON CELL NETWORKS: Depending on the plan, there can be massive texting fees for people using US phones in the UK. Use WhatsApp for texting, which texts using a WiFi connection (not cellular). It’s free. I was texting a buddy in the UK for the first few days, and he said they charged him 6 pounds for every text he sent me.

Also made some advance ticket purchases from these sites:
http://www.left-baggage.co.uk/ (to leave bags at the airport for our first day of touring)
https://tickets.royalcollection.org.uk/ (tickets to Windsor Castle)
https://www.theoriginaltour.com/ (24-hour hop-on/hop-off bus tour of London, from which you can also buy Tower of London tickets and includes Thames evening Boat Cruise)
https://hamiltonmusical.com/london/ (Info on Hamilton tickets)

Many of the hotels offered special rates if you prepaid at least 50%, which has a deposit that you lose if you don’t show up. I also stayed in a Marriot at Regents Park for 3 nights as I’m a frequent traveler and I could 3 nights for practically free/low cost in London by moving my London home base slightly out of the major tourist area. Not an issue since the Swiss Cottage tube stop was 2 blocks away. So I sacrificed charm for economy.

More details in my next post.

Bob

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38 posts

Day 1
• Arrive Heathrow Terminal 3 approx. 7am, get through customs, etc (flight was 2 hours late arriving, but still worked)
• Leave large suitcases at Left Luggage location in Terminal 3 using pre-arranged reservation.
• Take a Taxi to Windsor Castle and take tour using pre-paid tickets we bought at: https://tickets.royalcollection.org.uk/
• Return to airport via Taxi
• Collect Luggage
• Head for the Tube and take Tube (1 hour ride) to the Hotel in London for our first night in the City.

Day 2:
• Take Tube to nearest stop for “The Original Tour” bus (buses painted like a UK flag), showing them my vouchers and the driver of the bus prints out our pre-paid bus tour tickets, Tower of London tickets, and tickets for the Thames River Tour. For us, this was the Green Park Tube station. Take bus T2 if you want a human tour guide. Whole loop in traffic takes 2.5 hours. But it is a good way to see everything.

• Get off bus (or take the London Underground/Tube) to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

• Tour the Cathedral and climb to stairs to the top of the dome for city views.
• Stop at St. Paul’s Starbucks for an ice tea.
• Have Lunch someplace cool.
• Take “Original Tour” bus or (better) Tube to Tower of London
• Tour Tower until 5:30 closing time.
• At the Dock right next to the Tower, get on the Thames River Boat cruise that came with your “The Original Tour” bus ticket.
• Have Dinner at a pub
• Back to Hotel

Day 3:

• 9am - See Buckingham Palace and Surroundings (Skipped Guard-Change melee at 11AM)
• Tour Westminster Abbey (bought tickets while standing in massive public line and skipped to the front with confirmation code on my phone)
• Shop at Harrods (really LOOK more than SHOP)
• Hamilton Show (Wife and Daughter)
• Tour of the Light Cruiser HMS Belfast on a perfect day (Father and Son).

Day 4 (Train Trip to York and Afternoon York Tour)

• 8am Go to Kings Cross Station to catch 10AM express train to York
• 9am Take Photo at Platform 9 ¾ (Harry Potter thing)
• Catch 10AM Train
• Arrive York 12pm
• Taxi bags to Hotel (The Hazelwood)
• Tour National Railway Museum including North Shed, which has the coolest collection of unrestored transportation antiques I have ever seen. Watch roundhouse/turntable demonstration.
• Have an ice cream, smell the roses, see ancient St. Mary’s Ruin
• Walk the nearby section of the ancient city walls
• Attend Evensong at the York Cathedral (arrive on time for best seats)
• Filled with the Holy Spirit (from the Evensong), tour the old part of the city and eat at local restaurant (we ate at Sutlers Bar – Huge portions, TRY THE RIBS!)
• Walk back to the Hotel

Day 5 (York + afternoon drive to Keswick)

• Tour the rest of the City Walls
• See the Shambles and visit the shops
• Walk about seeing remaining things of interest to your group
• Back to Hotel to collect bags and take Taxi to Hertz Office on Leeman Road
• Drive to Keswick (pronounced Kezick) using postal code: CA12 5JU for Ellergill Guest House. SAT NAV in the UK works easiest with postal codes, which unlike US are good to locate a 50 foot square area.
• Enjoy gasps/yelps/screams of spouse who forgets the traffic comes from the other direction and who is accustomed to wide roads with breakdown lanes (this gets even more pronounced in Wales)
• Check in at the Ellergill Guest House (which has dedicated parking lot)
• Walk to Blacks Outdoor store just down the street for hiking map and cheap trekking poles. Also bought special bug spray to fight off the “biting mites” that are common in this area.
• Booths Grocery store in Keswick is a block away too to pickup supplies.
• Eat locally and walk down to the water to look around.

Posted by
4451 posts

You were lucky Bob, it's not usually this sunny for so long. We're in the middle of a long heatwave that's forecast to last the month. I can't remember the last bit of rain we had and hosepipe bans are looming, it's been hitting 32°c (90°f) here in the south for the last week, definitely not the sort of weather that I'd want to be hiking in, I'm sweating just walking to the end of my garden!

Glad to hear that you had a wonderful trip!

Posted by
93 posts

Thank you for this trip report! The details on your itinerary are really helpful. Looking forward to hearing more about the hiking

Posted by
49 posts

Bob - great report so far. Looking forward to more.

Posted by
38 posts

Day 6 (Keswick)
• Proceed to Scafell Pike trail heads. Postal Code for Sat Nav: CA20 1EX for Wasdale (1.5 hour drive for 6 mile hike), and CA12 5XJ for Seathwaite (25 minute drive) for 9 mile hike. We drove to Wasdale.
• Hike is hard. 3000+ feet of vertical rise. Great views on cloudless day. Lots of sheep.
• Sit on top for ½ hour admiring the view.
• Return to Keswick for dinner and collapse at the Hotel.

Day 7 (Keswick + Conwy)

• Walk to the water (cutting through town) and took a boat tour early. Used Rick’s book to see some sights, then had some lunch.
• Went to Booth’s Grocery to stock up on supplies
• Piled in the car for ride to Conwy.
• Arrive Conwy Wales around 5pm using postal code for the Castle Hotel (LL32 8DB), which was awesome. Nice charming rooms, located right on the High Street, good restaurants and grocery shopping nearby.

• Walked half the original Castle walls on the North side of town, saw smallest house in UK, and admired the partially scaffolding-covered Conway Castle on the hill.

Day 8 (Mount Snowdon)
• Rose early, assembled our gear, and using SAT NAV postal code of LL55 4NY, found the parking lot for the llanberis path about ½ hour drive from Conway. (9 miles roundtrip for the hike). Parking is near the train station and you have to hike up a STEEP road to get to the path. Hiking up the road is the most straining part of the hike actually. The grade is something like 30 percent.
• Info here: https://www.walkupsnowdon.co.uk/places/the-llanberis-path/
• Weather was perfect. You can take the cog railway train vs doing the hike, but then you can’t honestly buy the sticker for your car that says you “Hiked Snowdon the hard way”. Snack bar on the top for tourists provides ice scream to motivate the hikers.

Day 9 (Conwy Castle + Slate Mine + LLangollen)
• Even with some scaffolding on it, Conwy Castle is honestly the best preserved castle ruin I have seen. The Chapel restoration shows you what things really looked like way back when. You HAVE to see this. Spent a few hours there. No organized tour offered, but a tour for local school children gave us opportunities to listen in to their tour guide. An impromptu group sing by the school children in Welsh in the restored chapel left me with goose bumps. But you can’t plan for that, it’s just one of those travel miracle moments.
• Checked out of the Castle Hotel. After a false start because of closed roads, we made it to Blaenau Ffestiniog Slate mine using postal code LL413NB. Real retired miner leading the tour made it memorable.
• Drove directly from there to Iron Bridge Gorge.
• On the drive over to Iron Bridge, we stopped in a small town for dinner called llangollen. Ate in a old converted Mill right on the river. Took a peak at the industrial age canal system that is fascinating. On future trips, might consider an overnight here to get the full experience.
• Arrived at the Library House, got parking situated up the street, walked around to town. THE BRIDGE IS CURRENTLY COMPLETELY COVERED BY SCAFFOLDING. You can’t see it.

Posted by
38 posts

Yes JC, I know. I have friends in the UK that have climbed Snowdon 5 times and never seen the view. They can't believe my luck either. We all have deep tans now like we spent two weeks in the Bahamas.

Posted by
3 posts

Thank you for such great information! We are headed over next week and find your post extremely helpful.

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38 posts

Day 10 (Iron Bridge Gorge, Blists Hill Village, & drive to Chipping Camden)
• Library House Guest House TF8 7AN is easy to drive by as it is set back from the main road, but worth finding it. A+ We had two great rooms and I know it sounds quirky, but I appreciated the fact that top and bottom sashes on the Windows both opened for using that awesome Victorian era ventilation system. (by-the-way most guest houses don’t have air conditioning)
• After a nice breakfast, we packed up and drove to the Blists Hill Victorian Village. Really cool. Spent about 4 hours there. My wife and I found it fascinating. Coolest part for young adults was the actual iron smelting demonstration and casting pours they did at 11am. Then you can buy what they make in the gift shop. I bought a few door stops for my Victorian home here in the US. (On the way home, I had to check a bag because apparently giant hunks of Iron are not allowed in carry on bags). LOL.
• Drove that afternoon to Chipping Campen.
• Arrived at the Noel Arms Hotel, which has dedicated parking.

• Did the Rick Steves recommended walking tour before heading back to our Hotel for a late dinner.
• Warning - Our first night in the “Family Room” (Room #2) at the Noel Arms in Chipping Camden was like staying in a Native American sweat lodge. Located over the kitchens, small vent-style windows and a small fan left us gasping for cool air. I actually slept on the floor trying to get to the coolest air. After getting them to give us a second fan and some extension cords, night #2, I stacked room furniture up in front of the windows to elevate the fans to the level of the small vent windows and engineered a cross breeze. Much better. But you may want to avoid this room unless you like engineering projects. Other rooms seemed fine.

Day 11 (Chipping Camden & Walking the beginning of the Cotswold Way)
• Started the day at the TI in town, which is just a few doors down from the Noel Arms.
• A nice woman there sold us a hiking map of the area, and recommended we hike the first 5ish miles of the “Cotswold Way”, the 100 mile trail that starts right across the street from the TI in Chipping Camden and goes all the way to Bath. There is a town called Broadway at the end of the 5ish miles, so we spent to morning hiking to that. In the bright sunshine, it was simply fantastic, although again it is open country and in the sunshine requires sunscreen. We crossed wheat fields, rolling hills, and went right past Broadway Tower. It’s what my wife and I always thought hiking in the Cotswolds would be like. A dream come true for us.
• HIKING TIP: You “walk off” the map they sold us at the TI just before entering the town of Broadway. The map ends right after showing you going by Broadway Tower (Castle) and as you start down the steep hill toward the town. But no worries, it’s a straight walk down the hill to the town, so you don’t have to fret. Another tip…after following the trail to a paved roadway in Broadway, go left to find the main part of town and all the shops and restaurants.
• We spent several hours in Broadway having lunch and seeing the sights. A cool town itself.

• With a need to get back to Chipping Camden (without walking the 5 miles back), we located the TI on a map in the town center, went there, and the nice woman that works there called us a cab to get us back to Chipping Camden.

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38 posts

Day 12 (Leave Chipping Camden, Avebury Stone Circle, Finish at Spa)

• After breakfast at the Noel Arms in Chipping Camden, we left about 9am to drive to meet a friend of mine who offered to give us a personal tour of the Avebury stone circle and the circular mound that surrounds it called a henge. Took us about an hour to get there and there was ample parking. I used postal code SN8 1RF for the parking, although that code takes you about 100 feet past the parking lot, so just look for the parking lot when you get close. It’s just outside of town.
• They don’t offer tours as far as I could tell, so getting one from somebody enthusiastic for the subject matter, who showed us the fossils in the stones, described the history of abuse they have gone through, and showed us where some of the stones are still buried was fascinating. Still worth a visit to this actual ancient circle that is much larger than Stonehenge and with stones you can actually touch. You can pick up the details that I did verbally by visiting the museum.
• After almost two weeks of walking, the last night before our flight home was for pampering. We drove from Avebury around 2pm to The Runnymede on Thames, Windsor Road, Egham, United Kingdom, TW20 0AG. Spent our final night in air-conditioned comfort right on the Thames. It’s about 10 minutes from Heathrow.

Day 13 - Flight back to Boston (which like our arrival flight was 2.5 hours delayed). Not sure what the deal is with Delta and London, but seems delayed prone.

Posted by
38 posts

Hi folks,

Some final notes/tips:

I bought one of these combo voltage converters https://amzn.to/2Nz8fB7 from Amazon. It converts one UK plug to (3) 110V plugs and 4 USB charging ports. Turns out for a family of 4, with Cameras, Phones, iPads, we needed all this. Best investment and worked great. It's heavy, but you can lighten the load by just taking the UK plug and leaving the others at home.

We followed the Rick Steves light packing list, although I did bring an extra pouch with hiking essentials (Compass, flashlight, emergency Bivvy, rope, some hiking specific first aid supplies). I ended up buying hiking poles there at Blacks in Keswick, 20 pounds for 2 pairs of poles which served us well. We used Rick's Maximum carry-on packs for our main bags, but my wife and I went for the Osprey Daylight Plus https://amzn.to/2zlY5Rb as our "always with us" day pack. I grew to LOVE this pack. Had pouches to keep me organized and I could bury my rain gear (which I never used but was glad I had) at the bottom. I highly recommend it. And no, I don't work for Osprey or anything. :^)

Lastly, neck wallets. Hate them now. What a pain in the neck (literally). I ended up ditching mine inside of two days and keeping it in my Osprey Day Pack. I used paper clips to quickly clip the pack zippers together to prevent easy opening. This required some small maneuvering to open the pack, but this was my simple solution for making my pack a pain for thieves to open.

Hope you have found all this info helpful.

Bob

Posted by
2155 posts

Great report, Bob. Sounds like you packed a lot into your time. Nice planning.

Posted by
5762 posts

Thorough report. Thanks for sharing. Pleased to hear you were blessed with stellar weather through out your visit.

I've stayed at the Regents Park Marriot. Great online deal. Room with 2 beds, flat screen TV , large bathroom for $90.00. Room was in the back. Quiet, comfortable. Easy access to the Swiss Cottage tube station. Loved having a pint at Ye Olde Swiss Cottagw pub following days of exploration.

Small but enjoyable cafe in the nearby library.

Might not be in the center of London but with an Oyster card and your own two feet some accessible spots, Regents park, Lords Cricket club, Abbey Road and more. I enjoyed the neighborhood.

EDIT: have now read that the cafe in the library closed last year. Too bad. Tsk tsk.

Posted by
4451 posts

Lastly, neck wallets. Hate them now. What a pain in the neck (literally). I ended up ditching mine inside of two days

Pick pocketing is quite rare in the UK and pretty much unheard of outside London. Travelling in the Lake District I could probably walk around with my wallet dangling from my rucksack and still not experience any problems. When I visit the US I walk around with my wallet in my back pocket with no problems, I suggest the same is done in the UK, there is no need for neck wallets.

Posted by
1957 posts

Hi Bob. Wonderful trip report; it's well organized and full of helpful details and extra useful information. It sounds like you and your family enjoyed the heck out of your visit. And I'd say you really were lucky with the weather. Well, except for the uncomfortably warm nights! Thank you for taking the time to post this terrific summary of your trip.

Posted by
2913 posts

Thanks for your excellent and useful itinerary and report. The UK as a place to get a tan-said no one ever(until now!) We were there the end of May and early June and the weather was gorgeous-60's, only drizzly one day. Then we came home to 90, sun beating down in the mornings and rain most afternoons for the past month.

Posted by
38 posts

Thanks all for the feedback. Hope the report helps and continues to be a resource for others.

Posted by
4538 posts

I bought one of these combo voltage converters https://amzn.to/2Nz8fB7 from Amazon. It converts one UK plug to (3) 110V plugs and 4 USB charging ports.

The illustration suggests the UK style plug this comes with does not meet UK safety regulations as the earth connection is sleeved. Also there is no explicit mention of a fuse nor for that matter compliance with BS 8546. I would suggest anyone bringing this to the UK should connect it to the mains via a BS 8546 adaptor.

Posted by
1050 posts

with Cameras, Phones, iPads,

Did you really need a converter ?

Most modern appliances are double voltage (110 - 230V). Did you check before you left? The eight difference between a converter and an adapter is considerable. I would seriously consider buying a new camera with double voltage, rather than schlepping a voltage converter.

Posted by
38 posts

Hi there. I really can offer no advice here on power solutions. I was just sharing that I took that unit, it worked well, and we were able to exist for two weeks without any power issues. Common sense told me if they have 220V and we have 110V, then "something" has to do the transforming from one voltage to the other. This worked.

Giving credit where it is due, my trip planning was made much easier because I had Rick's book and used this as a guide. I also had a good friend from work living in the UK, so he gave me tips as well.

Bob

Posted by
38 posts

Final comment - although it seems totally organized now written as an after-action report, really the planning before the trip just focused on making hotel reservations and figuring out what route we would follow. We did plan out the first days in London and we knew that we wanted to try to hike Scaffel Pike and Snowdon as part of the trip. However, we planned a lot in route. I had Rick's booked chopped into sections and we would sit at breakfast every day and go over as a group what we wanted to do based on weather, the interest level of the group etc. Fortunately for us, bad weather was never an issue.

Posted by
2638 posts

Bob, the section of The Cotswold Way National Trail from Chipping Campden to Broadway is 6 miles. A friend and I walked the entire trail in September 2014. Beautiful views all along the trail that you only see from the trail.