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England Tours: After London, Where Next? (Part 1)
England tours offer so many sightseeing opportunities for such a small country, and can all be enjoyed after your visit to London!
It goes without saying that London is one of the must-visit cities anywhere, but once you have been there, you really should consider spending time elsewhere on your England vacation. I have always maintained that London is London and the rest of the country is another world waiting to be discovered. Almost like two different planets. I have selected a number of places in England which I have enjoyed and hopefully, so will the visitor. This is, of course, just a selection and a personal one at that.
I have chosen to break down the areas of interest into 4 different geographical regions – South, South West, Central and North. England is not a huge country and all destinations can easily be reached by car, train, or on an organized tour.
The Thames Valley
Very close to London is the Thames Valley region. This incorporates Windsor Castle, which is one of four homes of the Royal Family. The castle, which is the oldest and largest occupied in the world, was originally built for William the Conqueror in the 11th century. You can visit the State Apartments with their art treasures including original paintings by Rubens and Rembrandt, and you should not miss the Queen Mary’s Dolls House. This is a separate building and a miniature royal palace with miniature replicas of thrones, the crown jewels, and much more. It contains around 1000 works of art. St. George’s Chapel is a royal mausoleum containing the tombs of Henry VIII, Charles I, and George VI among others. After your visit to the castle, try a stroll through Windsor Castle’s attractive grounds and then, just beyond, into the Windsor Great Park. If energetic, you can walk the one kilometre/half mile to the prestigious Eton College, where many British politicians were educated. 5 kilometres/3 miles away from Windsor is Runnymede, the site of the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 AD.
Further along the Thames, heading west is the town of Henley, renowned for its annual rowing regatta which takes place over 5 continuous days. If your visit coincides with the Henley Royal Regatta, you can have an enjoyable day watching the competitions. If it doesn’t, you can still enjoy this very attractive idyllic Thames-side market town, stroll along the meadows adjacent to the river, and browse the many small shops in the town centre. Another favourite Thames-side market town of mine is Marlow, a charming place again to stroll along the Thames River’s banks. It is also a starting point for sailing on the River Thames on a 40-minute round trip cruise to Henley or Windsor.
Somewhat further along the River Thames, you come to Oxford, home to a large number of colleges which collectively make up Oxford University. There are 39 individual colleges dotted around the city, some of them hundreds of years old. In the case of Merton College, it is amazingly 750 years old. Most of the colleges are open to visitors and entrance to the grounds is free of charge. Although the colleges are located in a busy city, once you enter a college’s precincts, you will find yourself in a very different and serene world. Oxford is also home to one of the world’s oldest public museums, the Ashmolean, which features a collection ranging from Egyptian mummies to contemporary art.
Do consider a day out or even an overnight stay in pleasant Canterbury, south-east of London. Naturally, the highlight will be a visit to Canterbury Cathedral, the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Anglican Church in the UK. While there, you might like to check out the Cathedral Archives which hold a wealth of manuscripts, photos, maps, and other records which date back as far as the 8th century. The city has an attractive medieval centre and Canterbury Castle is the ruins of a Norman castle built in the 11th century. A favourite venue of mine is “Canterbury Tales,” an exhibit in St. Margaret’s Church, which is a reconstruction of 14th-Century Canterbury. It takes you on a tour conducted by a guide in traditional costume through some of Chaucer’s tales, and introduces you to some of the writers’ characters. Then there is the Canterbury Roman Museum with includes exhibits from the Roman period of occupation of Britain, and the Canterbury Royal Museum and Art Gallery with exhibits of both traditional and contemporary works.
A good place to start England tours in this region is the city of Cambridge. Again, the number one attraction is the University. Just like Oxford, Cambridge consists of a number of colleges which make up the university, this time numbering 31. I recommend either a cruise on the River Cam or rent a punt to view the colleges from a totally different perspective. If in Cambridge around the time, be sure to book a seat at the famous King’s College Christmas Eve Service or, any Sunday evening during term time, attend Choral Evensong. There are several outstanding museums in Cambridge including the Fitzwilliam Museum – with its half million exhibits dating back from 2500 BC to present day, The Polar Museum – where you can learn about Captain Scott’s Antarctic expeditions, and the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology – which includes a collection from Captain Cook’s expeditions around the world.
Stratford-upon-Avon was the home of William Shakespeare and today is a pleasant picturesque market town with the attractive River Avon flowing slowly through its centre. If able to spend time here, you can immerse yourself in culture and the arts by attending theatre and music festivals which cover drama, opera, and dance. Regarding Shakespeare himself, you can take in 5 houses relating to the famous bard – one being where he was born, which offers a glimpse into Shakespeare’s early world, and another being Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, a thatched farmhouse with beautiful grounds and gardens where he wooed his wife. You can also visit Tudor World, an exhibit which brings to life the 16th century. The town itself has a range of shops and fashionable stores to fill your time.
Not far from Stratford is Warwick. The highlight here is the imposing Warwick Castle, built by William the Conqueror in 1068, which was used as a fortification until the early 17th century. It contains an excellent collection of furniture, porcelain, sculptures and paintings, plus an impressive collection of weapons. The Castle Dungeon has a wax model museum designed by London’s Madame Tussauds. There is also an extensive area of parkland with numerous gardens including a rose garden and a peacock reserve.
On an England vacation, why not head to the Cotswolds, which has been described as the “quintessential English countryside.” It is a region of quaint small villages and beautiful, gently rolling countryside. It also contains some historic castles and stately homes. My suggestions for visits or stopovers include Broadway, which is one of the most picturesque villages with a selection of antique and quality shops. Then there is Morton-in-Marsh, a lively market town dating back to the Saxon era, with elegant 17th and 18th Century buildings where you can take in the open-air street market on Tuesdays. Another is Stowe-on-the-Wold, well known as a centre for antiques. Situated on the Roman Fosse Way, it dates from being a prehistoric fortified settlement. The Market Square is large and impressive and is surrounded by houses, shops, and inns – all built in the local Cotswold stone. Chipping Campden is one of the best preserved and most historically important towns in the Cotswolds. The High Street is home to a number of interesting shops. I knew someone who lived in Bourton-on-the-Water and they had no doubt that this was the prettiest village in the Cotswolds. I could certainly agree. It is probably the most popular village in the Cotswolds and often referred to as the “Venice of the Cotswolds.” It contains a model village which is a replica of Bourton-on-the-Water itself. Nearby is Birdland Park with over 500 species of birds, plus there is, of all things, a perfume factory which you can visit.
I have included this town in Lincolnshire for more than one reason. The first is that it was the city on which the universally acclaimed greatest British novel, Middlemarch, written by George Eliot, was based. The second is that it has magnificent Georgian architecture with over 600 listed heritage buildings, giving Stamford the title, “Britain’s Best Preserved Georgian Stone Town.” So it is no wonder it has been chosen for many tv and movie productions. These include Middlemarch, naturally, plus Pride and Prejudice, The Da Vinci Code, and the Golden Bowl. The London Sunday Times newspaper called it “Britain’s top place to live.” Apart from the architecture, there are attractive river meadows to walk along and great shopping, including a great market on Fridays.
The Norfolk Broads
No, these are not easy-going ladies but a series of rivers and broads (lakes) – most of which are navigable. The Broads cover 7 rivers and 63 lakes, most interconnecting, of which of the latter, 16 are navigable. They are a large protected area of wetlands and very unique in character. You can explore them by car and boat or by walking or cycling. The broads meander through the beautiful but flat countryside and landscapes. You will come across unspoilt villages and market towns in which to stop and take refreshment or stay over. You can check out the quaint waterside pubs. There are guided river trips available during the summer season from both the cities of Norwich and Wroxham.
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