A magical feeling tends to roll over me whenever I’m in the United Kingdom – particularly when I’m in England. My love runs deep; Maybe it’s because of Harry Potter, maybe it’s because of Mary Kate and Ashley in the award-winning Winning London, or maybe it’s because all my favourite movies growing up had at least one character with a British accent. Whatever the reason, when my grandparents and I returned to London after our cruise, I was eager to go further into the country for the day to explore more of one of my very favourite countries.
Our Golden Tours shuttle bus picked us up at our hotel, which was a bonus. This was not the first Golden Tours day trip I’ve been on, and after today, it certainly won’t be my last. On what could have easily been a quiet ride to the main office, our “pick up guide” instead gave us an orientation tour of the route from our hotel to the office. Because this was a route not taken by our hop on/off bus (which, as a side note, is my favourite way to orientate myself in the city, I don’t care how touristy it is!), we learned a heap of information about the surrounding neighborhoods, the private parks and who frequents them, as well as some good places to have dinner that night.
Once we arrived at the office, we were herded into lines behind our guides as they held their respective signs. Our guide, Toby, was about my age, and such a delight. Super professional, funny, and really knew his stuff, which is indicative of all the guides on Golden Tours.
Side note: Golden Tours did not sponsor this post/ invite me to travel with them (I wish I was that influential/important… maybe someday) it probably just sounds that way because I’m hyping them up so much. Not the case.
We would be making three stops, as well as driving through the Cotswolds, which are essentially the most lovely little (expensive as hell) homes in the Lake District of England.
First Stop: Warwick Castle, a very well preserved medieval site originally built by William the Conquerer. Grandpa and I climbed the 500+ steps to get up to the tower overlooking the entire grounds. Once you made it up to the top, you could walk the entire length of the castle roof, and the views were gorgeous – particularly the ones of grandma, far below (haha). A lot of the surrounding area reminded me of Windsor Castle, where the Queen often resides. Grandma and I took a photo in front of the spot that looked the most similar.
The inside of the castle was quite modestly decorated – at least, modest for a castle. The bedrooms in particular were quite cozy, however, as this was purchased by the Tussauds group in 1978 it’s difficult to know how unique all of that was to the original décor of the Middle Ages.
We could have easily spent the day here. There were gift shops, several places to have lunch, and lots of interactive exhibits. There was also a show put on at a theater a short walk down from the castle, where the players would act out silly medieval scenes for younger children. The entire grounds are beautiful. We even learned that our guide used to work there, which just benefited what we learned even more! But, we had to get going, as there was plenty more to see.
Second Stop: Stratford-upon-Avon, aka Shakespeare’s birthplace (and deathplace) This may have been grandma and grandpa’s favourite place on the whole tour. It’s sort of like a step back in time, in terms of the architecture, and the way the streets are all lined up. We got to walk through his childhood home, but unfortunately didn’t have the chance to see Anne Hathaway’s cottage (His wife, not the Princess of Genovia, haha) because, again, just not enough time. I do love day tours, and we got to do and see so much on this one in particular. However, as with cruising, the downside is that you see so many places that you’d like to spend way more time in (and, in the same fashion, some places that you wish you could leave right away, which is sometimes the case on multi-day trips). Still, it was a great stop.
Outside of the house, there were two players performing scenes from Shakespeare’s works, and you could place requests. I asked for a scene from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the man and woman wasted no time before diving into a scene as Bottom and Snout (acting as Pyramus and the Wall… a play within a play!). I’ve had the opportunity to play Snout twice in my lifetime, so I was super delighted that they picked this scene in particular.
For the rest of our stop, I browsed through the shops full of Shakespeare souvenirs, then sat and had a chai tea at Costa, a coffee chain in the UK, similar to Starbucks but with much tastier pastries (Sorry, Howard!) Then, it was back to the bus for our brown bag lunch (provided by Golden Tours, although we actually opted out and bought Subway sandwiches instead) and our drive through the Cotswolds!
The houses through this lake district were all so pretty. Most distinctive are the colours of the homes, all made with Jurassic limestone, unique to the area and giving all the homes a sort of golden coloured, “old-English” feel. Add that to the ivy growing up along the sides and you’re looking at the quintessential English home. AKA my future home. It’ll happen, okay?
Our final stop of the day was in Oxford, aka the University I, as a child, thought I’d attend one day. Clearly that didn’t happen, so this afternoon adventure would have to do.
Toby took us around all the different buildings and streets of this college town. I loved it! The time we were there was at the end of exam season, so there actually weren’t too many students around, but you could just feel how exciting it would be to attend this school. We stood in the courtyard of the Bodleian Library, which, from what I understand, boasts two great honours: It not only holds a copy of every book ever published in the English language, but is also where King James commissioned the “King’s Bible” to be written. The third honour, however, was most exciting to me – scenes from Harry Potter were filmed here 🙂
We had some free time, which we used to go find a washroom and some lunch, as we felt our guided tour had really taken us everywhere we’d be able to go. I did manage to pop into a department store, and, spoiler alert, the makeup at Oxford is expensive. I found an item that’s a staple in my daily routine, costing FOUR TIMES the amount that I’d spend on it at home. Buyers beware.
The long drive home from Oxford was spoiled by horrible traffic. We ended up having to loop back up to Heathrow, and even that didn’t work too well. Us Vancouverites like to complain about traffic, but I’ve never experienced traffic like I have in London. Same goes for in 2011, when we did a tour to Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge… the tour that was meant to end at 6pm actually returned back at 730pm. Nonetheless, Toby kept us all entertained.
I’m curious what others think about day tours. I have friends who never book tours, and choose to explore everything on their own. But in such a time crunch, I always find these tours to be the best way to experience places. What are your thoughts?