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Two Weeks in England

My son and I recently returned from a first-time, two-week (May 7 through 21, 2015) trip to England. Our visit was divided into two parts, the first part being London and the surrounding area.

Being a history and aviation enthusiast, I spent several months researching and booking a series of tours to feed these interests. Places visited included Churchill’s War Rooms, Chartwell home, and Blenheim Palace; Tower of London; Cambridge and Oxford Universities; Duxford Imperial War Museum; Royal Air Force Museum; the Cotswolds; Bampton (Downton) village; Stonehenge; Dover; the Battle of Britain Memorial; Windsor Palace; and the Bletchley Park code-breaker site.

We kept four days open with no tours scheduled. On those days we saw or visited Buckingham Palace; Whitehall; Big Ben; Westminster Abbey; Parliament; National Gallery; British Museum; Selfridges; Harrods; Victoria and Albert Museum (most excellent); and the Natural History Museum. Spent a sunny afternoon strolling through Hyde Park.

The second part of our trip might be termed a pilgrimage of the heart. My great-grandfather emigrated from northern England near Carlisle to America in 1837. Among other adventures, he participated in the California Gold Rush of 1849. We took the train 350 miles north and, with the help of a Carlisle historian I had corresponded with by email prior to our trip, visited the farm where my great-grandfather spent his youth and saw the family church, including the family plot and headstone in the church graveyard. We also toured Carlisle Castle and Lanercost Priory, and walked along portions of Hadrian’s Wall.

Somewhere during all this we found time to celebrate my 76th birthday.

Travel: Delta Airlines to and from Heathrow Airport; Heathrow Express train to and from Paddington Station in London; Underground train to and from Victoria Station. Underground and taxis around London. North to Carlisle on the National Rail (Virgin Trains).

Hotels: Stayed in the Pimlico area near Victoria Station in London – central location; within walking distance of many attractions. Stayed near train station in Carlisle.

Food: Hotels served a continental breakfast. Most other meals consisted of pub grub (excellent fare) or items bought in grocery stores. My son is vegetarian and usually found a menu item to his liking. We did enjoy one delicious home-cooked family meal in Carlisle, complete with an amazing dessert of apple pie and hot custard poured over.

Guide books: Rick Steves’ Pocket London (paper) and England (Kindle on phone) – both worked well.

Luggage and packing: Used Rick’s convertible carry-on bags, packing cubes, and traveling toiletry kits. Civita day packs for day trips. Packed light generally following Rick’s guidelines, but needed some “old guy” items not on the list (won’t be many years before Rick adds those). Washed small clothing items in hotel; used coin laundry (expensive) once.

Travel tips: Samsonite flat compact umbrella weighs only 4 oz. and protected well in London rain. Columbia fleece and windbreaker were easy to pack and kept me warm and dry. Tried a money belt, but found it too awkward. Used Lewis N Clark RFID neck purse (larger than most others) instead to carry valuables. Rick’s lambskin wallet is the perfect size for travel use.
Electronics: Relied on smartphone only; took no tablet or laptop. Phone global plan saved money and provided connection in most areas. Used Wi-Fi sparingly in places we trusted for email, maps, and information regarding trains, airlines, and attractions. Did no financial transactions.

Posted by
9928 posts

What a wonderful trip! Thanks so much for the report. Your family history connection sounds really amazing.

Posted by
1164 posts

Sounds perfect! (And your pre-trip planning really paid off.)
Thanks for the report.

Posted by
2053 posts

I'll add another thank you for posting; there is a lot of valuable information here. I love that the two of you were able to spend the time together on your "pilgrimage of the heart". How wonderful you could share such a special trip with your son. Happy Birthday!

Posted by
2989 posts

Wow, you really saw a lot! Thanks for an interesting trip report! Happy 76th birthday, a little late!

Posted by
3 posts

As another aviation enthusiast ...
My wife and I were taking a tour of Constable Country and came to Lavenham, a quaint town in Suffolk, UK. In the town square was a monument to the U.S. 487th Bomb Group (H). After some research I found a relationship to D DAY:

The group flew both the B-24 Liberator and the B-17 Flying Fortress. The unit's first commander was Lieutenant Colonel Beirne Lay, Jr., a prominent Hollywood screen writer until he was shot down on 11 May 1944 in one of the group's earliest actions. He was shot down over enemy territory but evaded capture and was returned to duty. After the war, he wrote the screenplay for the 1949 film, Twelve O'Clock High, starring Gregory Peck. RAF Lavenham which has since been deactivated.

D-Day .. June 6, 1944 .. Bombing airfields in France in preparation for the invasion of Normandy; then pounded coastal defenses, road junctions, bridges and locomotives during the invasion.

Medal of Honor

It was from RAF Lavenham that Brigadier General Frederick Castle took off to lead the largest Eighth Air Force mission of the war on Christmas Eve 1944. The object of the attacks, in which 1,400 bombers took part was escorted by 726 fighters, was to bomb eleven German airfields east of the Rhine while another 634 heavy bombers attacked communication centres west of the Rhine.
Altogether fifty-six American aircraft were lost that day including General Castle's B-17, in an action for which he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, his being the last award of that decoration to a member of the Eighth. His citation reads as follows:

He was air commander and leader of more than 2,000 heavy bombers in a strike against German airfields on 24 December 1944. En route to the target, the failure of one engine forced him to relinquish his place at the head of the formation. In order not to endanger friendly troops on the ground below, he refused to jettison his bombs to gain speed and maneuverability. His lagging, unescorted aircraft became the target of numerous enemy fighters which ripped the left wing with cannon shells, set the oxygen system afire, and wounded two members of the crew. Repeated attacks started fires in two engines, leaving the Flying Fortress in imminent danger of exploding. Realizing the hopelessness of the situation, the bail-out order was given. Without regard for his personal safety he gallantly remained alone at the controls to afford all other crew members an opportunity to escape. Still another attack exploded gasoline tanks in the right wing, and the bomber plunged earthward, carrying General Castle to his death. His intrepidity and willing sacrifice of his life to save members of the crew were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service.

A portrait of the general hangs to this day in the Swan Hotel at Lavenham, which was one of his wartime haunts and whose then-landlord was a personal friend. He was the highest-ranking officer in the Eighth to be awarded the Medal of Honor.

Posted by
332 posts

thank you for such an organized and detailed summary of your trip. I am going to bookmark this page so that I can use it as a guide for my future trip to London.

Posted by
3 posts

Carlisle is an interesting town, and Lanercost Priory was a peaceful site. My wife and I toured Hadrians Wall to the east... England is only about 80 miles wide at that latitude.

About 30 miles north of Carlisle is Lockerbie, Scotland. Pan Am Flight 103 was a regularly scheduled Pan Am transatlantic flight from Frankfurt to Detroit that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on Wednesday, 21 December 1988, killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board, in what became known as the Lockerbie bombing. Large sections of the aircraft crashed onto residential areas of Lockerbie, killing 11 more people on the ground.
We visited the main UK memorial at Dryfesdale Cemetery about a mile west of Lockerbie. There is a semicircular stone wall in the garden of remembrance with the names and nationalities of all the victims along with individual funeral stones and memorials.