I struggled to get a sound night’s sleep. Excitement, I imagine. But, I had to have my bags packed and ready by 7:00am to load onto the bus. The next morning I dragged myself out of bed, showered, and staggered downstairs to the hotel restaurant for breakfast. The typical fare was being served: sausage, eggs, cereals, etc. I noticed that British “bacon” is nothing like American bacon. British bacon is actually a small, thin slice of ham. Yummy!
I woofed down what I could (I was running a bit late) and headed down to the bus. There I met our guide for the duration of the trip: John. He is quite handsome and his New Zealand accent is too adorable. Anyway, I looked at the seating chart and boarded the
bus. My seat was the first seat right behind our driver Simon. Both gentlemen were wonderfully patient and very entertaining. My seat mate was a tall, witty lady from Australia. Lauren proved to be a great seat mate and travel companion! She was quite funny and always kept me entertained. Sitting across from us was a sweet lady named Sue and her very hilarious husband “Buttons.” They are originally from New Zealand but now live in Australia. They are grandparents taking a whirlwind tour all over Europe. I adore all three of these fine folks and we spent a great deal of time together on this 10 day tour.
So, we all took our seats and started off on our journey. Our first stop was Stratford-Upon-Avon. Located on the banks of the River Avon, this darling Tudor village is the birthplace of William Shakespeare. His childhood home is a beautifully preserved two-story cottage turned museum. We walked through each room of the home and I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful yet simple rooms. Exposed beam ceilings and uneven floors revealed the age of this home. The period furnishings are not original to the house but you still get a feel for what life was like 400 years ago. It was amazing to think that I was standing in the home where one of the world’s greatest writers was actually born and raised.
After the tour we had about an hour to grab some lunch and head back to the bus. Rebel that I am, I decided that I would flip lunch the bird, set out on my own, take a quick stroll through the village and head over to the church where Shakespeare is buried. I walked through the busy village admiring the centuries old structures that still housed shops, apartments, and pubs. I made my way to the outskirts of the village to the Church of the Holy Trinity. This gorgeous gothic church is surrounded by large, shady trees and a graveyard with headstones almost as tall as I am!
I stepped inside the church and right away was in awe of the beauty of the architecture. Giant vaulted ceilings, stained glass, and intricately carved pews filled the room from top to bottom. I was overtaken by the beauty in the craftsmanship. I thought of the men that painstakingly carved, chiseled, hammered, and nailed this amazing structure and all that it housed. I was in awe.
I made my way through the other tourists to the chancel where Shakespeare and his wife Anne are buried. For a donation of £3 I was able to step into the chancel and stand
literally inches from the grave of the greatest playwright that ever lived. William and Anne are buried side-by-side in the floor of the chancel. As I stood and studied these graves, it hit me as to where I was and what I was looking at. It was a humbling moment.
Suddenly, I glanced at my watch and realized I only had about 10 minutes to find my way back to the bus! But, where the heck was I in conjunction to the bus lot?!?! I RAN all the way back while navigating the streets trying to remember which ones I took to get to the church. I made it to the bus just in time. I took my “walk of shame” down the aisle as I was playfully harassed by my travel mates for almost missing the bus. Our next stop was the medieval town of York, AKA “The Shambles.”
This amazing city is the oldest medieval city in England. Though many of the structures date back to the 1300’s, the history of York begins around 71 AD with occupation of the Romans. All of the buildings are still in full use today and rumor has it that J.K. Rowling fashioned Daigon Alley after the town. After seeing for myself, I think those rumors are true! What a whimsical place!
The city is surrounded by ancient stone walls for protection from invaders. The streets are narrow and paved with the original cobblestones and have become a bit uneven over time making walking on them a bit of a challenge. The centuries old structures are two to three stories high and hidden alleyways are sprinkled throughout the village. Crowds of tourists, shoppers and residents fill the streets making it a bit hard to see all of the details, but, it was exciting to see a town this old still fully in use. It was also refreshing to notice that there was not a Starbucks or other “big name” shop in the village. Just “mom & pop” shops and pubs. Some having been in the same spot for centuries!
The heart of York is it’s minster. Construction of this gorgeous, gothic structure began in 1080 by Archbishop Thomas. Again, due to time constraints (and the fact that it cost £10 to walk inside) I decided not go go any further than the minster’s massive front doors. Perhaps I will on my next visit.
There clearly wasn’t enough time to see everything in York. This is a city I must (and will) visit again.
We hopped back on the bus and headed to our dinner stop for the night in Beckwithshaw. The Pine Marten is a pretty, stone restaurant surrounded by mature trees. The sun was setting as we arrived and the pink and orange sky highlighted the structure beautifully. Lauren, Buttons, Sue and I sat down to our “Welcome Dinner” (as part of our tour package) and enjoyed a lovely traditional meal of Yorkshire pudding and bangers & mash. I ordered two of the local beers on tap. Tonight, I had Black Sheep Best Bitter from Black Sheep Brewery in Masham, Yorkshire and Leeds Pale Session Bitter from Leeds Brewery in Leeds, West Yorkshire. Both are 3.8% ABV, both are quite nice and easy to drink. Malty, smooth, and complimented my meal rather nicely.
After our dinner and pints, we headed off to our hotel in Harrogate for the night. I remembered my age as soreness crept into my legs and back from walking on uneven cobblestones and sidewalks for the last day and a half. But, I wasn’t going to complain. So far, my dream trip was off to an amazing start! Day 1 of the tour comes to end as I do my best to calm my mind and get some rest. The day held more amazing sights than I could have ever dreamed of. And this is only my 2nd day in England!
Tomorrow…off to bonnie Scotland!