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Trip Report: Dream Trip to UK, Part 1

We recently returned from our two week trip to the UK. I’d like to give a huge thank you to all of those folks here that answered questions, offered recommendations, and yes, even those who strongly questioned our itinerary.
This trip was absolutely everything I dreamed it would be. We have been home for three weeks and I find myself thinking about it (and missing England) every single day.

Who we are and where we went:
This was a family trip. My husband, two adult daughters (henceforth referred to as M and K), and myself. Our first week was the “road trip portion” (and subject of much discussion here!). Week 2 was London.
Bath (2 nights)
Day trip to Glastonbury, sleep in Salisbury (1 night)
Chipping Campden (2 nights)
Conwy (2 nights)
Keswick (1 night)
Edinburgh (1 night)
London (6 nights)

Arrival Day
We flew nonstop on Virgin Atlantic, Seattle to Heathrow, Economy Classic. While I must say that overall, VA was very nice, there were some things that were not happy-making. The food was pretty terrible, as was the wine (canned). The seats are very tight. M and K are quite petite and they were pretty uncomfortable. The crew was wonderful, the flight was peaceful and uneventful, but we were quite pleased to disembark.

Getting through immigration and the airport:
Heathrow does a good job of directing you where to go with their signs. Once we reached the passport check things got chaotic. There was one man working the area, and he kept shouting at everyone to “get in a queue!”. There were several lanes that had green lights, and a few that had red. No matter which green one anyone went to he’d holler “not that one!”. There was no logical sense to any of it. So here I am, tired, pulling my rolling suitcase, holding my passport, being shuttled from line to line, then I have to take off my glasses and am immediately expected to be able to see where and how to insert my passport while I have no free hands and can barely see! After 4 attempts the gate swung open and I was in England.

We had tickets on the Elizabeth line to Bath. I pulled up the tickets and itinerary on the LNER app (a great app by the way) and it said our train would depart from terminal 5 for Hayes/Harlington in about 10 minutes. We were in terminal 3, so we dutifully got our free paper tickets at the kiosk to take the train to terminal 5. When we arrived we could find no indication of where to go next, so I finally found someone who worked there and to our dismay he pointed to the train we just got off. Apparently it departs terminal 5 and then STOPS at terminal 2/3 on the way to Hayes/Harlington. Too bad the journey details left that bit off. Oh well, we got back on and were on our way, right on time.
Glitch number 2: The train got held up at a red signal for a couple of minutes, meaning we arrived at H/H at the same time as our connecting train. Which we of course missed. Luckily we just had to wait about 25 minutes for the next one to Reading, then got the next train to Bath. The ride was very nice, we were able to relax and enjoy the scenery. (It was around 10:00 when we got on the first train) Oddly, we were never asked for tickets or our two together railcards during the entire journey.

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Bath

Lodging: 2 Crescent Gardens

Upon arrival in Bath we were greeted outside the train station by a woman from the Bath visitors association (or some form of that sort of thing). She gave us a free map and showed us the way to our guest house. We were glad to be able to walk and stretch our legs!
I highly recommend this B&B! The host, Monika, was wonderful, and served us the best breakfasts we had during the entire trip. We had the family suite, which is 2 bedrooms joined by a bathroom. Nice sized rooms, very clean, and the beds were very comfortable. Monika was also very helpful in directing us to where and how to park our rental car the following day.
After dropping off our bags we walked to the Royal Crescent and the Circus, then just wandered the city taking in the beauty of it all. There was a street food festival happening, so we had fun exploring that area.

I had made note of a couple of places to check out when I was planning our trip, so on the first night we went to The Raven, which is a pub known for its pies. This turned out to be perfect. It was very much a local favorite, loud, crowded, filled with locals and their dogs. We lucked out and found a booth right away and eagerly awaited some real food (we had granola bars on the train). We were not disappointed, and we all feel it was one of the best meals we had. After dinner we went back to our room and were asleep by 8:00pm.

Day 2: We had to pick up our car at noon, so we spent the morning sightseeing. We went back to the Royal Crescent and were able to get some great photos as the tour buses hadn’t arrived yet. We went to the No. 1 Royal Crescent museum and found it quite interesting. We got in a lot of walking, and saw most of the city center.
We got a taxi to the rental car office and made our first journey of the week getting back to the car park behind our B&B. We lucked out and got the last empty spot in the lot.

Fiasco of the day:
We decided to take a bus to Prior Park Landscape Garden. I looked up the hours (open until 5) and the website told us which bus to take. We got on the bus and found seats in the back. This is when I realized that unlike on a train, the bus doesn’t stop at all of the stops unless someone pushes the bell, and we didn’t know what stop we needed. I asked the gentleman in the seat behind me and he kindly told us when to push the bell and that the stop would be right at the garden.
Well…
The stop was right at the Garden CENTER, not the park. The park entrance was at the next stop. Which was (according to the little brown sign on the road) 850 yards ahead. Uphill. Up a very steep hill. About halfway up I spotted a cemetery across the street and wondered if I shouldn’t just stop there and save us all time. We eventually reached the entrance gate. Which was locked. The helpful little sign informed us that the park closes at 5:00 and the last entry is at 4:00. It was 4:06.

We crossed the street and waited for the bus back to town, while I vowed never to speak to a stranger on a bus ever again.

We soothed our disappointed feelings by enjoying cocktails from one of the cocktail wagons at the street fair.
For dinner we went to The Salamander, where we had the best fish and chips I’ve had in my life, and tried mushy peas for the first time. They were good!
We originally had no plans (or desire) to go to Bath, it just worked out best for getting a car and being a good starting point for our road trip. I’m so glad we went, as Bath is one of my favorite places we visited. We all enjoyed it very much and would go back in a heartbeat.

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The Road Trip Begins:
We decided that K would be our co-pilot and navigator, and were happy to discover that we could plug my iPhone into the car’s system and Siri would talk us through the journey. This was an absolute lifesaver, and we were really glad we have T-Mobile which gives us free international service.

It was Sunday, and we headed to Glastonbury. In the final days before the trip I decided to add Glastonbury Abbey to our itinerary and we are all very glad I did. It was really beautiful and awe inspiring. We spent a great deal of time exploring the grounds and marveling at how magnificent the abbey must have been.

We got the shuttle out to the Tor and began our climb. Oh my. This must have been the windiest day ever. Halfway up I realized that my pre-trip walking regimen was a joke, but luckily you can stop as much as you want and just say you’re looking at the view. I did that a lot. We originally were going to bring up some food to have a picnic at the top, but had changed our minds. Good thing we did because it was just Too Windy. We got photos, then started down using the other trail. At one point we had to stop and sit down because we felt we were in danger of being blown over the side. Even my mountain hiking hubby agreed. The view was completely worth it.

We walked back toward town and decided to visit the Chalice Well. What a disappointment. It’s the one place we visited where I really regretted having paid money to get in.

M&K went into a few shops while hubby and I waited outside. Glastonbury seems to have a constant haze from incense.
Back in the car and off to Salisbury! (granola bars for lunch again)

Our reservation in Salisbury was at the Rose & Crown Hotel. We had booked 2 rooms, each on the Sunday Stopover Offer (room, bottle of wine, dinner, breakfast all included). This was a mixed review kind of stay. The location was great, our rooms had a door leading to the lawn alongside the river, with a wonderful view of Salisbury Cathedral. Rooms were clean and comfortable, if a bit in need of an update. The staff didn’t really seem to know how to do their jobs. Went to check in and they had us down for 4 rooms. Then I asked if we needed anything to let the server at dinner know we had the special offer and was told I would just tell them and they’d know what to do. Nope. It all worked out, but they seemed to really never have done any of this before.
Once we checked in we walked over to the Cathedral. I knew that we’d be too late to take a tour, but we were happy to just see the outside and the cloisters. Absolutely beautiful. As we made our way around the front, a gentleman at the door invited us in to join the Evensong service that was in progress. We went in and took a seat. Oh, to hear the choir voices in such a place! It sent shivers down my spine and moved me to tears. What a beautiful cathedral.

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Stonehenge & The Cotswolds:

The next morning we had tickets for the first entry at Stonehenge. It’s true. It looks exactly like it does in the pictures. And you still need to see if for yourself. It was a Monday in late September and not at all crowded. We strolled at our own pace and took loads of photos. We viewed the exhibits at the visitor’s center then back to the car to head to Lacock Village and Abbey.

Being movie nerds we had fun seeing the village, especially the “home” of James and Lily Potter. We had lunch (my first cream tea!) and then toured the Abbey. We all found it very interesting, although we were disappointed about one bit. There were signs in the car park that said “Slow Hedgehogs”. We never saw any hedgehogs, slow or otherwise. It was quite a letdown.

Our B&B was just outside of Chipping Campden, so we stopped off in Stow on the Wold for a brief walk. We got photos of the amazing door at St. Edwards Church, got some cold medicine for hubby, and went off in search of our lodgings.
We stayed at The Manor Farm in Weston Sub-Edge. What a delight! Built in 1624! Our host, Lucy, was a delight, delicious breakfast each morning, and very comfortable rooms.

Our first night there we had reservations at The Fleece Inn, built in the 15th century. Our server was Simone, and she was fabulous! The food turned out to be the best meal of the trip, so good in fact that when we paid our bill we made a reservation for the following evening. It was just as good the next night.

Our full day in Chipping Campden included strolling the main road, walking through a church and graveyard, then deciding to take the “easy” version of the walk to Dover’s Hill. Hubby waited in the car, as his cold was making things difficult. We got some cheese and crackers at a store and we three headed off, following the instructions and map. For a country without a lot of “mountains” there sure are some steep walks. We soldiered on and were rewarded with breathtaking views of the landscape from all my favorite books. It was really, truly wonderful. As I looked around, I turned, and there behind us was a car park. Excuse me? That was not on the map! We could have driven up here? The cheese and crackers cheered me up, and K said it was too bad Dad couldn’t come, he’d have loved the view. Well, I said, there is the car park… After our picnic and much taking of photos, we headed back down (the return walk is always so much shorter!) got hubby and K directed us to the car park. I must have sat on that grass just drinking in that view for well over an hour.

We still had quite some time before dinner, so we headed over to Broadway. I had avoided adding it to our plan as it is one of the “3 B’s” according to Rick, the busiest most touristy of the Cotswold’s villages. Well, it was delightful. Simply beautiful, lovely shops, no crowds, and we enjoyed ourselves quite a bit. Right up until the sudden cloudburst which we waited out in a book shop. We thought it would be a fine time to have a pint, but we could not find a single pub that was open (4:00pm). Tea then? No open tearoom either. Ah well, back to our rooms for a little rest before dinner. Had our first Sticky Toffee Pudding that evening and we loved it. Currently researching recipes.

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Conwy:

Got an early start and made it to Conwy in good time. Hubby was always pleased when Siri would say that the next roundabout was in 12 miles, rather than the all too common “in ¼ of a mile, at the roundabout…”

Checked into our rooms at Y Capel. This was one of the nicest places we stayed. Large, beautiful rooms, very clean, very comfortable, and vey quiet. Highly recommend! We booked the family suite, which gave us 2 rooms, 2 baths, with a connecting door. We had dinner reservations at the Erskine Arms at 6:30, so we headed off to Conwy Castle as soon as we dropped off our bags.

We all had a great time exploring the castle, although it really tested my fear of heights. We purchased the Explorer Pass which saved us quite a bit, seeing as we were also visiting Caernarfon and Beaumaris the next day.

Dinner was excellent. Beef and ale pie!

The next day we drove to Caernarfon and spent a great deal of time exploring the castle, then did it all again at Beaumaris. K was very excited that it had a moat! We all agree that our days exploring the castles in Wales were some of the best times we had. So fun!

We headed back, going on to Llandudno before dinner. It was rather underwhelming. Too touristy for our tastes. We had looked forward to seeking out some of the Alice statues, but it turns out that is more of an all day-walk the whole town-kind of thing. We did find the Mad Hatter and the Red Queen. We were cold and tired so we headed back to Conwy. Also because we wanted to get the car parked in the miniscule parking lot before dark!

The Erskine Arms was full, so we settled on dinner at Alfredo’s. (you can’t have beef and ale pie every day!) It was quiet, good service, and good food.

Wales is simply beautiful, and I would love to spend more time there.

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Lake District:

Early morning start and an easy drive to the Lake District. We had been advised that since we could only spend one night there we should just tack that night on to Edinburgh and skip it. We are all very glad I ignored that advice.

This area must be what inspired the term Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wow! The scenery is breathtaking. We stopped in Ambleside for lunch (I ordered apple pie with warm custard for lunch, because why not?) Ambleside was pretty busy. We then enjoyed the rest of the drive to our B&B in Keswick. We had rooms at The Hazeldene, which wins the prize for our favorite lodgings. Such a beautiful place, wonderful views, friendly staff.

We walked along the lake to Friar’s Crag, where we sat and enjoyed the view. Simply stunning. I could spend a week exploring the area, so I do hope I get to go back someday.

We went back to the Hazeldene and enjoyed cocktails in the sitting room while chatting with the hostess. She recommended The Bank Tavern for dinner and now so do I. Had a fun evening with good food and laughs and wishes that we could stay in Keswick forever. M & K have determined that they should move there and open a book shop with a little coffee area. I concur.

The next morning we bid a sad farewell and pointed the car toward Edinburgh. Before we left we stopped to visit the Castlerigg Stone Circle. Enjoyed walking around and got our photos with some local sheep.

An uneventful drive to Edinburgh (we had the best luck on all the roads, no traffic issues at all). Hubby was looking forward to NOT driving anymore. He was great, adapted to the opposite side quite well, but it really is stressful when the roads are barely more than one lane and there’s a car coming your way. Do I allow 3 inches between us and the car, or between us and the stone wall?
Part of me wonders if the car rental companies chose their location as a mean prank. After a week of driving we get to the drop off site which is in a multi-level parking garage. This was the scariest part of the entire drive. Super tight turns at extreme angles, and then right before you get to the parking spots there is some sort of grate on the ground that makes the loudest boom when you drive across it. We all swore that the tire exploded 40 seconds before turning in the car unscathed. The drop off was next to Waverly Station and we were staying at the Premier Inn across the street. We were able to drop off our luggage for holding until check in, then off to explore.

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Edinburgh:

Oh, poor Edinburgh. We didn’t exactly give you a fair shot. We went there knowing we would only have part of a day to see it, knowing that we’d only have time for seeing the Royal Mile, as we had a train in the morning. This ended up being everyone’s least favorite part of the trip.

Not really because we didn’t have time. The first strike against it was due to our having spent the week in beautiful countryside, and this was a return to a Big City. So it was rather a rude awakening. Now I am sure that Edinburgh is a beautiful city, people rave about it. And I’d like to go back and see some other parts of it someday. But sadly, my impression of Edinburgh is that it is dirty. Ridiculously so. There is trash everywhere. It is also the only time that I felt unsafe walking around during the entire trip. I felt on edge and on alert the whole time.

We went to Calton Hill and climbed the stairs to the top, stepping over and around the discarded wine bottles, cardboard boxes, and other litter. It’s quite a view from up top! Made our way back to the Royal Mile, where we got in line for sandwiches at Oink and found a vacant bench where we sat to eat. We took lots of pictures, walked past lots of shops. The streets were really busy (it was Saturday). We went in and toured St. Giles Cathedral, which was lovely. We all wanted to visit Greyfriar’s Kirk, so we headed that way next. We spent a lot of time there, I had no idea it was so large! Finally found “Tom Riddle’s” grave. We headed back to the hotel to check in and put our feet up for a bit before dinner.

The streets were much less crowded when we went back out, and we found ourselves more comfortable and able to enjoy it more. Had to go to 4 pubs before finding an empty table. It was a tiny table, with 2 stools, but M & K were able to squeeze in together on the window seat. They just had to coordinate taking turns lifting their forks and glasses during dinner.

Next morning we got breakfast at one of the coffee stands in the station, stocked up on sandwiches and water bottles for the train to London, and just like that part 1 of the trip was done. (side note, why are there no trash cans in Waverly Station?)
Next stop London!

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In case you're curious, on paper it looks like a lot. And during the planning process I got lots of "so much driving!" "You're doing too much!" "You're only going to see the inside of a car!"

We did take that all into consideration, and in the end we went with our plan. After returning home we discussed it a lot and we all agreed that we never felt rushed, never felt like we were overscheduled. We had lots of free exploration time each day. In fact, as much as we all loved our week in London, we all ranked that first week as our favorite portion.

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Simple answer as to why no trash cans - terrorist risks, specifically dating back to the days of IRA attacks on the mainland- part of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.
But any terrorist group could use them as an easy way to create carnage.

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Keswick, sad to relate for you. already has a wonderful bookshop- Bookends - opposite the Kingfisher chip shop. And used to have a second - opposite the Royal Oak Hotel- before the owners retired!!

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Simple answer as to why no trash cans - terrorist risks, specifically dating back to the days of IRA attacks on the mainland- part of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland.
But any terrorist group could use them as an easy way to create carnage.

Oh, my! That never even crossed my mind. Thank you for replying, I'm quite surprised at the reason. I had no idea. I just eventually figured we weren't looking hard enough.

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Keswick, sad to relate for you. already has a wonderful bookshop- Bookends - opposite the Kingfisher chip shop. And used to have a second - opposite the Royal Oak Hotel- before the owners retired!!

Ah, M & K will be quite disappointed.

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I say this totally flippantly, but maybe open an American style guesthouse in Keswick. Although I think the theming is now toned down just to the American breakfasts (at one time all the rooms were themed to different states) the Compston House in Ambleside is, I think, the only one in the Lake District.

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Maryellenhowen, now that I found the right way to find and read your trip report, I appreciate your taking time to share your thoughts and experiences. Part 1 gives me a lot of information for future trips! Your reflections on Edinburgh are of particular interest to me- I’m trying to figure out days involving there, or not. Can’t wait to read part 2!

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Mary. Ellen, I’m enjoying it a lot so far and I can’t wait to read the rest! What Stuart said about the trash cans makes sense. I know when I was there the city seemed clean and I certainly did not notice any trash laying around. I’m sorry you didn’t get to spend more time there. It really is a charming city.

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A really wonderful trip report Mary Ellen.
I loved Edinburgh, and i’ll always love my hometown, Paris, but as i’ve gotten older, i much prefer villages and countryside now (except for Paris) and now i plan my trips geared to that.

It’s wonderful that you got to do this trip with your daughters and husband. Happy family memories forever.

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What a wonderful trip report. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Looks like you did not visit Bourton-on-the-Water and Lower Slaughter whilst in the Cotswolds. Bourton-on-the-Water is very popular because it is so beautiful with the river Windrush flowing through the middle.

Perhaps the refuse workers were on strike in Edinburgh?

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I really enjoyed reading your trip report. We went to many of the same places in 2019.

We spent more time than you in Edinburgh but it didn’t capture our hearts either. It was the end of a two week trip so that might have been it. We came from York which we loved. It also was about 55 degrees and rainy (in July) and crowded. There was no trash though so there must have been something with that.

One hint on buses-Use goggle maps to figure out where to get off. It works amazingly well.

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Loved reading your trip report, Mary Ellen! We celebrated our 45th anniversary there this year, and this brings back great memories! Interesting about Rick not recommending seeing Broadway - LOL! We had a fantastic meal there at Russell’s & the best fish & chips of the trip the following night, staying at the amazing countryside Dumbleton Hall.

We agree with your comments about renting a car. It’s very handy to have one, but it’s also a wonderful feeling to have it handed back over to the rental company in one piece!

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One hint on buses-Use goggle maps to figure out where to get off. It works amazingly well.

I agree with that. I use Google Maps extensively when I'm taking public transport. You just plug in destination A to destination B, then pick the public transport option you want to take. Once you're on it, just keep following the route, as it will update the stops and let you know when to get off. It's really a wonderful feature!

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Loved your comment about the wind on the Tor. My sister and I climbed the Tor several years ago. The weather was grey and windy (is it always windy?) At the top she took a photo of me with my arms out like I was able to fly in the 'breeze.' It remains one of my favorite travel memories.

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Just looking at Prior Park- I think it's really unhelpful that the National Trust map defies convention and is upside down. with North being at the bottom of the page. I would always ask the driver if I was unsure where to get off. I'm sure the other passenger just misunderstood your intended destination. In some parts of the country buses now have audible and visual next stop announcements, including the Open Tops in the Lake District and the 555 Keswick to Kendal (for Lancaster) bus.

If I'd have been going there (never have been, in fact I had never heard of the place) and was looking at Google maps I would have got off at the Garden Centre and taken the back route in via Church Lane to what the NT map shows as an exit gate, so I would have got equally diverted.

This is a really useful cautionary story.

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What a nice trip you had! Thank you for sharing.

Edinburgh is my favorite city in the world, but in recent years it has gotten very crowded. I have never found it to be dirty or full of litter. You might consider going back and giving it more time. The setting is spectacular and so love that you can be hiking in nature (Arthur’s Seat and nearby hills) just a short walk from the Royal Mile. Then again, perhaps it’s not your cup of tea.

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Thank you for sharing your trip with us. Glad you and the family had a great time.

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We absolutely love Edinburgh. It is such an easy city to get around and the people are charming and witty. Just be glad you weren’t there during the Fringe Festival in August 2022. The trash barrels were overflowing from all the tourist activity and the trash was all over the streets. And then the refuse workers went on strike making things worse. I noticed that they cleaned up the Royal Mile when the queen passed away shortly after that. It would have been unseemly to have the funeral cortège traveling through that mess. I hope you give Edinburgh another chance someday.

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Such a delightful report, Maryellen. I'll definitely be making notes for future trips.

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Wonderful trip report, thank you!
I looked it up after reading your enthusiastic comments on an Italy forum.
We are heading to England in the end of April and going to Oxford, Cotswolds, Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury and London, so this is incredibly helpful! Our son and his wife are heading to Edinburgh and London in May, so that will be interesting reading for them, too!