I traveled with my father to England in order to visit some relatives and reconnect with my English roots. We had just fifteen days, limited funds and a list longer than the Channel of things we wanted to see. The up side of having a number of family members still living in and around London was that we would not need to stay at any hotels. To that end, we had arranged to stay with relatives in Surrey, Slough and London and would use these locations for launching-off points for our day trips.
The list of places we wanted to see was not short:
- Warwick Castle;
- Hell-Fire Caves;
- The white cliffs of Dover;
- The Imperial War Museum;
- The British Museum;
- The HMS Victory;
- Hampton Court Palace;
- Paul’s Cathedral;
- The Tower of London;
- Churchill’s War Rooms; and
- so much more…
Well, as it turned out, for various reasons (mostly to do with the aristocracy having rented the places out) we didn’t get to a few of our destinations, but we did get to see quite a bit and everything we saw made us fall deeper and deeper in love with England.
We made it out to Stonehenge with thanks to a cousin who didn’t mind playing chauffeur. Amazing. Worth not only the drive from Surry, but the flight across the Atlantic.
We also spent a day at Warwick castle. Now, yes, it is owned by Madame Tussauds, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not chintzy or Disney-esque. It’s a working castle with the world’s largest (working) trebuchet. Seeing that thing fire was awe inspiring. Plus, how often do you get a chance to stand on the same spot as once stood William the Conqueror?
London. So much to see. We spent three days in the British Museum and there was still more to see. Bring a lunch though, the cafeteria is pricey. We visited the Tower of London only to discover that almost 50% of it was under renovation, another area was cordoned off for a private party and that we’d be unable to see a significant part of the collection there so we decided to wait and go next time. We went up to St. Paul’s Cathedral, three times. On three separate days. Each time the cathedral was closed for a private function. My remark to the docent at the door of “And here I thought we’d done away with the purchase of indulgences to get into heaven” was not well received, so we beat a hasty retreat.
We decided to go the Imperial War Museum, but got lost on the bus system. In the end, we decided that a pub was probably where we needed to be. The staff at The Plough helped us get over our sorrows with a hearty meal and a wide selection of beers.
We spent a day touring the stomping grounds of Henry VIII and Cardinal Woolsey at Hampton Court Palace. Beautiful buildings. You can feel the history in a place like that. But word of warning, bring comfortable shoes, it’s a lot of walking on cobbled or sett-paved roads.
We also got a chance to explore the Brooklands Museum and Mercedes-Benz World. Both places we amazing. Brooklands is a former airbase and racing track and there are a number of planes being restored by volunteers as well as a large collection of vintage and classic racing cars. Mercedes-Benz World is a museum devoted to German supremacy in England (they’re masters of the long game, those crafty Germans…). If MB has created a car, it’s probably in the museum which, conveniently, doubles as a showroom. Yeas, that’s right, if you like something you see, you can buy it. I bought a cap with the MB logo on it, and I had to get financing just for that.
To finish our trip off on a note of British superiority after spending a day with the Germans at their track and showroom, we visited the HMS Victory, Churchill’s Bunker and the HMS Belfast. With stories of national heroes with stiff upper lips and vintage “Keep Calm and Carry On” buttons on our jackets, we left England and returned to Canada.
But there was so much we didn’t get to see. We’re planning on returning in the fall of 2015 to finish checking off our bucket list. A bucket list which has, of course, grown longer since we left and now we’ll be lucky if we can fit everything into three weeks. I’m sure we will manage though. To quote Winston Churchill “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”