Cruising the Kingdom that is United

Trip Start May 04, 2011
Trip End Feb 20, 2014

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Where I stayed
3 diff hotels
What I did
York, Banbury, Salisbury

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Thursday, July 26, 2012

Early on in our trip planning, we had decided to hire a car from Edinburgh to London rather than catch a train. Mum was keen to see some English countryside, I was keen to have a breather between major cities and the hectic pace I expected in London given the Olympics were in town. It proved to be a wise choice and satisfied both our objectives.

We left Edinburgh by carting our luggage in the rain to the rental car location 10 mins down the road. This was the first time it had rained for us in Edinburgh and although annoying, it was fortunate that it hadn't rained the whole time as is so common up here. Before too long, we had crossed the border into England and were enjoying some spectacular hilly countryside despite the rain. This scenery proved to be the nicest of the whole drive actually with towns packed into tight valleys and roadways entirely enclosed by the tree canopies above, just waiting for Robin Hood to swing out and hijack us.

First stop (after getting misguided by the GPS numerous times) was 'Roman Vindolanda Museum and Fort’, which is right next to Hadrian’s Wall and consists of ruins from a Roman fort during the period that the Roman Empire extended into Britain. Not much left of the fort or the town nearby, but the museum had incredibly well-preserved artefacts that have been discovered in the archaeological site. No photos allowed, but there were leather shoes, coins, jewellery, blankets and even a child’s sock! All from 1800 years ago! The little museum was one of the best I’ve been to and I’m amazed that some of these artefacts are not in bigger museums in Rome or London. Hadrian’s Wall itself is a bit underwhelming and not much left that is distinguishable from a typical farmers stone fence that are common around here. Nonetheless, it was cool to see and even (inappropriately) stand on the wall.

We rolled into York fairly late in the evening and struggled to find a restaurant that still had its kitchen open. The streets are skinny as I had been told, but it was good to arrive this late cause all was quiet and even when I mistakenly drove the wrong way down 1-way lanes, it was ok and only pedestrians gave me dirty looks. York was good. I like fortified towns and this one has the best preserved walls in the UK. Could have spent another day here easily, but just the 1 night and then off to Banbury. We stopped at Stratford-Upon-Avon on the way to see where Shakespeare was born and lived. Our hotel in Banbury had booked out our room to another person and we were only advised when we arrived. Yep, we got kicked out to make way for a card player who had come to join his mates for a Bridge weekend. Nice. Mum was very disappointed as she had specifically chosen this hotel as a countryside thatched-roof retreat, but instead we got transferred into the main street of Banbury to a big run of the mill hotel complex. Also, this was where we would stay for the next 2 nights, so it was not a good situation.

We did a day trip out to Blenheim Palace, which was the birthplace of Winston Churchill and is the homestead of the Duke of Marlborough gifted by Queen Anne in the 1700’s for fighting the Blenheim battle in France. Every generation since that first Duke has lived in luxury in this Palace. A nice venue and holds an exhibition on Winston’s life. From there to Oxford and a tour of Christchurch College. I had wanted to come out to Oxford in 2009, but ran out of time, so it was good to explore for half a day. Lots of inspiring architecture and great to wander around.

From Banbury, it was off to Salisbury and a tour of Stonehenge. But before that was a trip to one of the highlights of this holiday – the Russell Road Post Office, Banbury (read with severe sarcasm). Mum needed to box up and post some stuff home and all took a bit longer than we both expected. Mum needed a cigarette after, and I could’ve done with one too! We roared our way to Salisbury and met up with the organised tour to go see some stones that were arranged in a particularly enchanting way some 3500 yrs ago. The tour was really good and a true highlight. We explored a few other henges in the area that have all disappeared aside from mounds and depressions in the landscape. The very experienced guide was great at depicting what it was like back in the day. The tour then culminated with a special visit to the inner circle of Stonehenge, which can only take place after 7pm when the monument has closed to the public. Only a small group of us inside and you could pretty much do anything but touch the stones, which are all covered in moss – this surprised me.
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