Category Archives: UK2005
We spent the last three weeks in the UK, beginning with a few days in London, then going to Bath, Stow-on-the-Wold, Winchester, Medstead, and finally concluding in Glasgow for Interaction, the 63rd World Science Fiction Convention.
During the time we were there, I had network connectivity on two occasions — one from the public library in Stow-on-the-Wold, and one from the Internet area at Interaction. So I didn’t do any blogging on the trip. But I did take notes and pictures, and over the next few days, I will fill in the gaps and retro-blog our trip. If I get the technology right, all of the entries will appear on the appropriate dates.
The reason we came to the Cotswolds in the first place was because I’d recently read Bill Bryson’s book, Notes From A Small Island, and he’d raved about the area, especially the village-to-village walking. He, of course, was actually going somewhere when he did his walking, carrying his belongings on his back. But the walks and the territory sounded interesting, so we planned on spending two nights here.
This morning, we set off on what was billed as a two-hour, five-mile walk, making a loop between Bourton-On-The-Water, Lower Slaughter, and Upper Slaughter. We left our belongings at our B&B, except for those few necessary items for a trip: a GPS, a Palm, a camera, some water, an umbrella, and jackets. We never used the umbrella, though it drizzled a couple of times near the beginning of the walk.
The walk brochure warned us that parking in Bourton-On-The-Water was likely to be difficult, so we started in Lower Slaughter, where parking was easy. The village was tiny, so it didn’t take us long to find ourselves out in the fields, searching for the second part of Eye, Eye, It’s a Massacre. We didn’t find it, though we spent half-an-hour looking. And so we returned to Lower Slaughter for refreshment, and then took off along the walking trail again — this time going directly to Upper Slaughter.
Upper Slaughter makes Lower Slaughter look like a metropolis — the only business we saw there was the Lords of the Manor Hotel, which did not seem to welcome walkers, so we didn’t stop. Instead, we continued along the path, passing by what looked like a steeplechase practice ground
and being passed by a rider on horseback
before we finally arrived in Bourton-on-the-Water.
We were ready for lunch, and since Bourton-on-the-Water is a tourist town, we were spoiled for choice. We allowed ourselves to be seduced by the wonderful-looking chocolate cake at The Mad Hatter, only to discover that the main dishes were only so-so. After lunch, we wandered the high street for a while, but the town was too crowded to linger very long, and so we set out again.
But before we left town completely, we tried one more geocache, Milestone. And this time, we broke our losing streak and found the cache (though we nearly gave up). After that, we returned to the trail and to our car, waiting for us in Lower Slaughter.
Unfortunately, I didn’t keep the guidemap for the walk as a souvenir, but our path was very similar to the one described here (except we went the other way and started in Lower Slaughter).
A short drive later, we were back at the B&B, where we rested briefly before walking back to Stow-on-the-Wold and another delicious dinner at the Eagle and Child.
We had a late breakfast this morning and didn’t leave our B&B until well after 10am. We put our stuff in our car, then locked it up and walked back into Bath to do a bit of shopping and a bit more geocaching.
The shopping was absolutely critical — both Jeff and I wanted to visit the Bath Sweet Shoppe (which we’d seen yesterday but hadn’t had the time to deal with). I was, as always, in quest of the sherbert lemons I had had during the first GetCoTI; Jeff just wanted candy. I failed in my quest — the sherbert lemons were solid (no sherbert!) and got stuck together; I eventually threw them out. Then Jeff visited the San Francisco Fudge Factory and tried out Marshfield Farm Ice Cream, a local product, and pronounced it “good” (I thought it was too early in the day for ice cream, showing the foolishness of age).
We then walked up to the Royal Crescent in pursuit of our first geocache of the day; Diane found it, though we all searched. On our walk back down to town, it started to rain, so we ducked into the Cornish Bakehouse and had pasties for lunch (standing under an arch near the shop, since it was strictly a takeaway operation and we’d left our raingear in the car). After that, I tried out two ATMs and was disappointed at both (I guess I was over the daily allowance for the US business day, because I was able to get money late in the afternoon) — then we walked back to the B&B, gave them back our parking permit, and got in the car for our trip to the Cotswalds.
We had planned on stopping at Dyrham Park (a National Trust property), but only part of the grounds were open (not the house), and it didn’t seem worth the admission price, especially as it was raining again. But the WCs were fine and free.
I had preloaded a few caches along the route into my Palm, and we decided to try one — a multicache at Marshfield, a village just a couple of miles off our route. We entered the village and parked the car — then I checked the location of the first step of the cache and found that it was half-a-mile away. But the rain had stopped, so we left the car where it was and started walking.
The first step was conveniently located in the town churchyard (that was a fairly good guess, since the directions involved checking information on a headstone). Solving that part gave us the coordinates of the actual cache, another third of a mile down a public bridleway. The actual location was under trees, but the hint in the description gave Diane what she needed to find the cache. Definitely a nice break.
From Marshfield, we decided to do yet another cache, this one in the tiny village of Castle Combe. We took the first turn from the A420, which took us up a narrow unclassified road. In comparision to the roads in the Yorkshire Dales, it was a breeze, but that was only of relative comfort.
As soon as I’d parked my car, the phone rang — it was Brenda, the owner of Little Broom (the B&B we were heading for), wondering when we might be there. We’d said we wanted to arrive at 4, but she had an errand to run — when I told her where we were, she said we’d be doing well to arrive by 5:30, and so she could do her errand without worrying about our arriving while she was gone. I was just glad that the phone hadn’t rung while I was trying to park the car!
Castle Combe is an amazingly cute village — it’s been used in many movies, including at least one of the Harry Potter series.
Our cache was above the village, or so the coordinates told us. We never found it, even with the hint. After we left, I wondered if we might have been on the wrong side of a wall, but I didn’t feel like driving back and trying again. Maybe next visit.
By this time, we all wanted a nosh. There wasn’t anything that fit the bill in Castle Combe, so we got back on the road and stopped at the next moderate-sized town, Tetbury, where we had milk shakes at Two Toads. From there, we pressed on directly for Maugersbury (if you ignore the small errors of navigation along the way) and the Little Broom B&B, arriving about 5:45pm.
After dinner, we walked up to the north end of the village to check out the Tesco’s in hopes of finding some socks (I thought I’d packed more than I had). No joy (this was a small Tesco’s, only as large as a large supermarket in the US), but we did pick up some apples for Jeff. Then we walked back to the B&B to unpack and relax.
Tomorrow, if the weather cooperates, there will be more walking. If it doesn’t cooperate, Stow seems to have a lot of shopping available!
This morning, we awoke early so that we could check out of the hotel and be at Paddington Station by 9am to meet today’s London Walks guide, Richard. We succeeded better than we’d hoped — we were at the station well before 8:30, so we wandered around for a while. I’d already done the geocache in the station, but Jeff and Diane took advantage of the opportunity to log it.
Eventually, we found the group gathering for today’s Explorer Walk to Bath, gave Richard our money, and boarded the train. (London Walks must get very good discounts from the train company — today’s tour, including the walk, admission fees, and round-trip train travel, cost us just a couple of pounds more than I’d expected to pay for a one-way ticket.)
The trip to Bath was uneventful — it was very nice not to hear anti-terrorism reminders after spending three days using the Tube, and we arrived in Bath just a few minutes late. I’d phoned our host for the night from the train, and he was waiting to take our luggage up to the B&B, so I didn’t have to miss any of the tour.
We left the train station and walked over to the nearby canal, where our guide told us about the history of Bath and of the canal system (as it happened, we’d be on this particular canal later in our trip, but many miles away).
From there, we entered “New Town”, where Bath expanded after it had gone as far uphill as people were willing to walk — but it was on the wrong side of the River Avon, so it never became as fashionable as the other part of town. The connection to the old part of town was via the Pulteney Bridge, which was modelled after the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
We crossed the bridge to the “nice” side, only to be confronted with that most fashionable of vehicles, a Trabant.
We escaped via the Guildhall Markets (buying nothing), and explored the downtown area and the theatre district, finishing the morning just outside the baths themselves, with a number of recommendations for lunch and plans to meet just before 2pm for a visit to Bath Abbey.
We had lunch at Cafe du Globe, which had an interesting menu and was reasonably tasty (some of the pubs looked interesting, too, but we didn’t see any which clearly catered to non-smokers). We then reunited with our group just outside Bath Abbey for the afternoon walk.
There’s an organ concert every Wednesday afternoon, but it ended just before we went in; we were there, however, in time for the hourly prayer led by one of the Abbey’s clergy. After that, Richard guided us to some of the interesting sites in the Abbey,
and then it was up to the fancy part of town, beginning with a visit to the Assembly Rooms (where photography was not permitted), followed by a trip to The Circus, and finally a visit to the Royal Crescent.
From there, it was all downhill to the Roman Baths themselves.
We left the group there — they returned to London, I guess, while we walked down to the train station, found the Hertz office, and picked up our vehicle for the next week, a Ford Mondeo 1.8 with manual transmission and air conditioning. I can no longer drive a stick at home, because my right hand has been weakened by too many years of mousing, but in the UK, one shifts left-handed. And since renting an automatic there costs about double what renting a stick costs, I am happy to shift for myself!
We left the car behind and hurried back into town before the stores closed so that we could pick up a current AA Road Atlas and an OS map of the Cotswalds — then it was back to the station to drive the half-mile to the B&B.
The drive would have been better if I’d really known where I was going, but we eventually found the right place, figured out where to park the car, and met Jill and Keith, our hosts for the evening. Our rooms were up two flights of stairs, so they suggested we leave our suitcases in their sitting room and only bring up what we needed for the evening, which made good sense to us.
And then it was off on the great adventure of the evening: laundry. There was a laundrette about a ten-minute walk away, but it closed in 90 minutes; we had to hurry if we were going to have clean clothes.
I’m not a big fan of spending time in laundromats, but this one (the Widcombe Laundrette) was even less pleasant than the average. There wasn’t anywhere to sit, and the machines were iffy — in fact, the first washer we tried ate our £2.50. But eventually, we got the job done and returned to the B&B with clean clothes.
After that, it was a pleasure to walk over the North Parade bridge back into Bath proper for a fine Thai dinner at the Mai Thai Restaurant. We finished the evening with a quick cache, then ran through the raindrops back to the B&B, where we called it a night.
Even though there were several interesting walks on offer from London Walks, we decided to travel independently today. Well, if you want to know the truth, we just didn’t quite make it to any of the walks.
The day started with a knock on the door at 8:12am — it was Jeff, wanting to know if we were ready. His alarm had gone off an hour before. Ours hadn’t. I now understand one more trick about my mobile phone.
So we left the hotel a good bit later than we’d planned, and headed for the Imperial War Museum, located on the former site of Bedlam.
The Rick Steves travel guide said that most people find 90 minutes adequate for the museum; we spent longer than that in the “Secret War” exhibit alone (about MI5, MI6, and related agencies). By the time we finished there, it was already too late to make the Sherlock Holmes walk, so we had lunch at the museum (not bad!), and then we visited the “Children’s War” exhibit (how children in Britain were affected by WWII) and the “Post-1945 Conflicts” section. D-Day beckoned, but we decided we weren’t going to study war no more — at least not today.
By this time, it was nearly 5pm. Fortunately, we knew that the British Library was open late on Tuesdays, so it was back to the Tube and King’s Cross station. We made a brief detour to the mainline station, but though we found Platform 9-3/4,
we couldn’t figure out how to get onto the Express. So we walked to the British Library instead, and spent a couple of hours in the “Treasures” exhibit (photos not allowed, more’s the pity!), marvelling at items such as three versions of Magna Carta, a copy of the First Folio, original lyrics from the Beatles, Jane Austin’s writing desk (with the original manuscript of Persuasion on it), and a letter from Sir Isaac Newton. Amazing.
The rest of the evening was an anti-climax; we Tubed back to the hotel, then walked around the neighborhood looking for some ice cream for dessert. We found up having “Chocolate Giant Ice Cream Bars” from the local Marks & Spencer — £1 each, and barely worth it. But definitely better value for money than buying Ben & Jerry’s from the hotel for £5.75 for 500ml!
And now we’ve packed in preparation for tomorrow’s trip to Bath (again, with London Walks, though we won’t return to London with the rest of the tour). I had hoped to be able to leave our luggage at the train station in Bath, but as far as I could find out, there are no left luggage facilities there — or at the bus station. Fortunately, I was able to book us rooms for tomorrow evening at the Holly Villa Guest House (another Rick Steves recommendation); the owner often picks people up at the train station, and offered to pick up our luggage when we arrive so that we can take the tour. After the tour, I’ll pick up a car from Hertz and drive to the Guest House, and we’ll begin the second portion of our trip.
This morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, and then headed for the Tube to take another London Walk, this time through the British Museum. I nearly made the mistake of believing that the weather would improve, but Diane talked me into bringing umbrellas. We got to the Holborn tube station half-an-hour early, so we decided to take a little walk — it was dry when we left, and pouring down rain by the time we’d returned to the station. Chris (our guide) was waiting inside, gathering the troops — we left the station the usual five minutes late, and strolled through occasional raindrops to the Museum courtyard, where she gave us an introduction to the Museum and its history. Then we strolled through security and into the Museum proper.
Two hours is not long enough to see the British Museum; two days wouldn’t be, either. So she concentrated on showing us the unique items (as she said, “every museum in the world has mummies, so we’ll skip them”). We started with the Rosetta Stone — like the Mona Lisa, it’s nearly impossible to get close enough to take a decent picture, but I tried.
After the Rosetta Stone, the crowds diminished (or at least the areas containing them got bigger). We continued to the
Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon, which are arranged around the perhiphery of a large room (I guess with the dimensions of the Parthenon itself). Then to the statue of Mausoleus, the Erectheum Caryatid,
the Portland Vase, and finally the Ship Burial at Sutton Hoo. The tour ended there, and if we had had nothing else to do, we could easily have spent the rest of the day in the Museum.
But we wanted to see more of London, so we left the Museum (noticing that the security lines had gotten far longer while we were inside) and walked to the Forum Cafe for lunch. It was nothing special, but I’d go back.
Then we returned to the Holborn Tube station for our second walk of the day, Legal and Illegal London, guided by Shaughan though the four Inns of Court.
This was our favorite walk of the day, though there was very little attention paid to the illegal side of things. One thing we learned was that the most important name on a list of those in Chambers is that of the senior clerk
even though it’s usually buried in the middle of the listing. The senior clerk controls the allocation of cases to the barristers in Chambers, and therefore has a considerable effect on their income. We also learned not to believe everything we saw.
The Inns of Court are private property, and the public is only allowed in at the discretion of the members. Good behavior is required.
Our tour ended at the Royal Courts of Justice, but since cameras are not permitted, we decided to enjoy it from the outside
and went to the home of Twinings Tea to buy tea towels instead. After that, we walked down to the river to pick up the Tube back to the hotel. And after a very brief stay, we left, en route to dinner at Sherlock Holmes Pub and Restaurant (the Pub was horribly smoky, so we went upstairs to the restaurant, which features a recreation of Holmes’s study, as well as pretty good food) and a fast walk to Embankment station to meet Graham (again) for our third walk of the day, Ghosts of the West End.
It turns out that many London theatres are haunted. So are some of the gentlemen’s clubs. But I’m afraid that the details, like many of the ghosts themselves, vanished rapidly. Some of the walkers continued on to a fine old Georgian pub, but since it didn’t have a license permitting under-16s, we chose to go back to the hotel and call it a night.
We arrived at Heathrow a few minutes after 11; on the way to Immigration, I checked the tourist literature rack and grabbed two brochures. One gave this week’s theatre lineup; the other was from London Walks. I had taken a couple of tours from their sister operation, Paris Walks, and had been pleased, so I handed the brochure to Jeff and let him look for interesting walks.
He found plenty — more than we could do if we were spending this entire vacation in London. So we negotiated and decided to try the Old Westminster walk, which left at 2:45pm. But first, we had to get to our hotel and have lunch. And before that, we had to clear Immigration and Customs.
There was no Fast Pass line for Immigration, so we had to wait with the
common people rest of the non-UK/non-EU passengers. It seemed to take forever, but I guess it wasn’t really all that long, because we were in a taxi by noon (our luggage was waiting for us as soon as we got to the belt, and UK Customs was, as usual, a non-stop affair), and at our hotel by 12:45.
The driveway was blocked off, but the bellman came out to the street and took our luggage for us. The revolving door was also closed, and everyone was being wanded with metal detectors before being allowed into the hotel. Our rooms wouldn’t be ready until check-in time at 2pm, so we left our luggage and headed off to explore.
We found a small Italian place, Mosco’s, just off Oxford Street and had a spot of lunch (I wouldn’t go back, but we could easily have done worse), then took the Tube to Westminster to meet the tour.
Graham was our guide — we met him (and the other dozen or so walkers) across the street from Big Ben (technically speaking, Big Ben is the bell in the clock tower, which is St. Stephen’s Tower). He led us through the Tube station to the embankment (and the 50p loos!) to introduce the area, finishing just as Big Ben struck 3. Then we went across to the grounds of St. Margaret’s Church and Westminster Abbey, over to Victoria Tower Gardens, and then into some quieter, less-visited areas including Smith Square (home of St. John’s Concert Hall) and the grounds of Westminster School. The tour ended just outside Westminster Abbey (which was closed to tourists for the day). The tour kept us moving nicely, which was just what the doctor ordered — and it was entertaining and educational, too. Recommended.
After the tour ended, we walked up Whitehall towards Charing Cross (Diane and I had stayed in the Charing Cross station hotel on our first trip to London in 1980, and that’s still the area I feel I know the best). We spent a few minutes in Trafalgar Square, and then walked along the Strand into Theatreland.
We had two goals: visit the tkts booth to see what was playing in general, and find out what the Reduced Shakespeare Company was offering in particular. I knew that the booth was in Leicester Square, but I wasn’t sure which theatre the RSC used.
I probably should have checked the map instead of blithely leading the way — we eventually did find the booth, but it was a long schlep via Bow Street and Covent Garden. The direct route would have taken us five minutes. Oh, well, we needed to keep moving anyway.
The tkts booth was closed, but there was an information window still open, where the attendant looked up the Reduced Shakespeare Company and told us to go to the Criterion Theatre, very near Picadilly Circus. We found the theatre with no problem, but discovered that there was some children’s musical booked there; I guess the RSC is on tour.
From Picadilly, we hopped on the Tube and went back to the hotel and finally got into our rooms. They’d given us connecting rooms, as we’d requested, but one room was a handicapped room, and the en-suite was odd, so we got them to move us. That all took quite a while, and we were quite ready for dinner.
We wanted Indian food for dinner (a not unusual situation for us on a Sunday evening); the concierge recommended Bombay Palace, a few minutes’ walk away. As we were walking to the restaurant, I suddenly recognized the neighborhood — I’d had dinner at the Duke of Holborn pub two years ago. But we continued on to the Bombay Palace, which was quite tasty, though significantly more expensive than our usual place at home.
And that was enough for our first day in London. Good night!
After we’d changed our routing to take BA, I decided it was time to research their service offerings, and I was pleased to find that they had installed flat beds in Business Class. This confirmed the wisdom of my decision to change — if we’d stayed with American, we’d have been in the usual reclining seats, and the flight time wouldn’t have been long enough for a good nap anyway.
Not all flat beds are created equal. Last year, I flew Virgin, and found the bed to be quite comfortable, if a bit narrow. Earlier this year, I flew to Beijing in the United First Suite, and again, the bed was comfortable but narrow. The bed in BA business class is narrow, but it’s also significantly harder than I would like (Virgin adds a mattress, which makes a big difference). Nonetheless, I slept for about five hours (intermittently, as always on an airplane), and I’m looking forward to our arrival at Heathrow in about an hour.
I suspect I will also be looking forward to a real bed tonight.
The rest of the flight has been quite pleasant — the food was good and the wine was quite drinkable (Chateau St. Michelle Syrah, which I bet I can find at Trader Joe’s). And we had metal knives to cut our food with, since the TSA has no authority over this flight. Yet another reason to take the Vancouver routing. :-)
We’re on our way to the UK for a holiday, travelling as much as possible on points. When I booked the trip, it was already too late to get tickets for the obvious routing on American, San Jose-Chicago-Heathrow, or even the reasonable alternative, San Jose-Dallas-Gatwick. Instead, all they could offer us (after considerable work by the agent) was San Jose-Chicago-Glasgow-Heathrow, with longish layovers in Chicago and Glasgow. Since “free” was the right price, I took that routing, but this week, I called back to see if there was a chance of improving our lie.
The obvious routes were still unavailable, but a creative agent found us an interesting alternative: San Francisco-Vancouver on Alaska, then non-stop to Heathrow on BA. There were plenty of seats available on the transAtlantic flight, but it took a couple of tries before we were able to get seats from San Francisco (the last time I called, I was willing to settle for a flight to Seattle and driving the rest of the way, but that turned out not to be necessary). The only downsides were that we’d have to get up very early to make our flight from SFO, and that we’d have a six-hour layover in Vancouver — or, more accurately, at YVR. But the total trip time was shorter than our existing routing, and fewer stops is always good, so I took it.
That was Friday morning. I had planned to drop a note to Tim Bray and Lauren Wood to get their advice about what to do with our layover, but work was too busy, and I didn’t get around to it.
It turns out that six hours isn’t quite enough to do anything useful, especially if you’ve got carry-on luggage and don’t want to pay to have it stored. We nearly taxied to a local shopping center so I could buy a cable I’d forgotten to bring, but finally decided just to go outside for a few minutes (it turns out there’s a mini-park just outside the International Terminal — very pleasant, if noisy), and then check in and go to the lounge to await our flight.
As we were sitting, reading the paper, I looked up, and thought I saw Tim Bray entering the lounge. But I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t say anything. But when Lauren walked in a moment later, I was sure — they were on their way to Oxford (with their son, Sean).
I guess I really should have written!