This is the part of the story where our trip became a trip to England, not just a trip to London. We booked a day of touring on an enormous bus with stops at Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock Village and the city of Bath.
One aspect of our trip that I’ve neglected to mention is the weather. Every single book, article, Pinterest post, etc. that I’d read about England warned me about the weather – it would be cloudy, it would be rainy, it would be damp, it would be cold. Luckily, that was not the case for the majority of our stay. For most of our visit, the sun was shining, the sky was a brilliant blue, and the temperature was pleasant.
Until the day of our bus trip when it was cloudy, rainy, damp and cold. So it worked out well that we spent most of the day on a warm bus. Also, our previous days of non-stop movement had finally caught up with us – early mornings, loads of touring (walking), and fun late nights with Anna and Will took their toll, which made it very pleasant to lean back in our seats and catch some sleep between stops.
The bus was a two-story affair, not an open-top double-decker, but still two stories. It looked rather wobbly and unsafe to me when it pulled in. Ann wanted to sit upstairs so we could see everything. When I pointed out the rather unsafe center of gravity, Ann replied that, if we were to be killed in an unfortunate bus accident, wouldn’t I rather be killed having an adventure in England?
Sometimes having someone more adventurous than yourself as a travel companion is a good idea. Pretty much always, really.
So we climbed up to the top floor of the towering bus and hunked down until the first stop, Windsor Castle.
The English countryside surrounding Windsor Castle is rural and provided views of the castle itself from miles away. Windsor Castle isn’t one building, but a collection of buildings enclosed in a fortress wall, like the Tower of London, so there is a lot to see. St. George’s Church at Windsor Castle is larger than many of the other churches we saw and features the tomb of King Henry VIII.
Another interesting tidbit about our visit to Windsor Castle was that the Queen was there when we were visiting. They have a special flag they fly when the Queen is actually AT one of her many residences. The special flag wasn’t flying when we were at Buckingham Palace, but it was flying at Windsor Castle. Maybe she looked out her window and saw us standing on her front lawn – who knows?
Like the Tower of London, Windsor Castle feature dizzying displays of silver and other acoutrements of royalty. It’s overwhelming on the same level as the vast array of jewels on display at the Tower of London – so much and so showy that it doesn’t seem real. One unexpected highlight of Windsor Castle was visiting the Barbour store across the street. We got a huge kick out of telling the sales people that “Barbour” was our name and they gamely pretended to also be excited about that.
After our visit at Windsor Castle, we grabbed sandwiches and got back on the bus to visit Stonehenge.
On the way to Stonehenge, we passed Ascot, which was an unexpected bonus. Not surprisingly, it isn’t far from Windsor Castle (the Queen being a horse lover and all).
Stonehenge is both parts what you expect (from all the pictures) and not what you expect, at the same time. First off, it’s extremely remote and near a military base, so you see military helicopters and other aircraft flying overhead.
Stonehenge itself is on a little bit of a hilltop, with no buildings in sight but oddly, there are sheep nearby because rural England is teeming with sheep. The day had turned blustery, which is reflected in our pitiful Stonehenge selfies, where we are squinting to avoid being pelted in the eyes with cold driving rain.
We were only allotted 45 minutes to tour Stonehenge (both the site and the Visitor Center), which ended up being more than enough time on this day – we were back on the bus with 15 minutes to spare!
Next, we headed to picturesque Lacock Village for a meal at the George Inn, a quaint tavern dating back to the 14th century (that may have also been frequented by Charles Dickens). It took some time to get there, so we were able to take in the countryside.
Here are some of things about the English countryside I found fascinating:
- rural thatched-roof cottages that looked like one of those Thomas Kinkade paintings, but with with plastic Little Tykes children’s toys in the yard. Evidently, real families actually do live in those cottages!
- the grass not the same color green as here in the U.S. – really!
- for such a tidy, orderly people, there is more rubbish along the roads that I would have expected – piles and piles of rubbish
- sheep, sheep, and more sheep! We passed one area with hundreds of sheep and little lambs – each with a number painted on the side in different colors – red, blue, purple, green, etc. They were frolicking in the meadow – jumping over each other. So cute!
Lacock Village has been used as a setting in movies and if you’ve ever been there, you can understand why – visiting it is like looking back in time. Not in the same way as in Historic Williamsburg, Virginia, because actually people live in the houses in Lacock Village. After enjoying a pub-style lunch where we shared a table with two young women from Tennessee (what a coincidence!), we had some time to tour little Lacock. We visited Lacock Abbey, saw the Lacock Bakery and poked our heads in and out of the little shops and businesses. My favorite picture of the trip was taken at Lacock Abbey when Ann light a candle for her mother and the light from the match hit her face perfectly, illuminating it in the dim light of the Abbey.
Then we headed for our final destination, Bath.
One thing about the bus tour I’ve neglected to mention is our highly entertaining tour guide, Mel. Mel’s resume included stints as both a history teacher and an actor, both of which come in quite handy for leading a bus full of tourists. Most of us were rusty on our English history, but after a few hours with Mel, were back up to speed (on the high points, anyway). He also gave us useful advice about touring London and demonstrated enormous patience with the predominantly American and Canadian tourists – being a bus tour guide is advanced cat-herding.
Of all of the sites we visited that day, Bath was my favorite and the one I hope to go back to and spend more time when (not if) I go back to England.
The Romans originally built the baths on the hot spring. After the Romans left the area, the present day city was built on top of the Roman ruins. All of the buildings in the city were built with “Bath stone,” a type of limestone native to the area. It’s a truly beautiful, elegant-looking city.
Although the baths themselves were closed by the time we finally arrived, we were able to quickly tour impressive Bath Abbey, and do some souvenir shopping. We finally found an Arsenal soccer jersey for Richard and I bought a BATHrobe for myself – get it? That still tickles me every time I wear my bathrobe from Bath. We also had a chance to stop into yet another pub for a refreshing adult beverage before getting back on the bus.
We returned to London where we made our way back to Anna and Will’s for yet another evening of food and conversation before getting some much-needed sleep to prepare for our last full day in London.