While living in London, I can’t deny that I have been a bit slack when it comes to visiting attractions on the tourist trail. Even worse, I haven’t really explored Britain, save for short trips to Newcastle and Brighton.
When Amanda from A Dangerous Business visited London and invited me to be her plus-one on a day-trip to Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge with Golden Tours (the UK branch of the well respected Grayline), I immediately said yes! While I’ve never taken a bus tour for fear I’d be stuck with a Hello Kitty flag waving tour guide, I was curious about what it’d be like.
As the bus rolled into the parking lot it was hard to suppress the squeel I felt rising within me. I am not a Monarchist – nor a Republican for that matter – but to know that we were arriving at a real working castle was exciting and I did feel a pang of adoration towards Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the Royal family when seeing my first ‘proper’ castle – Windsor Castle.
Built as a stronghold in a prime position on a hill above the river Thames, the castle has survived bombings during World War Two, and a fire in 1992, as well as constant attacks on it during the Medieval period. Within its walls, you can see many of the halls which still host functions, state rooms, children’s sized knight’s armour, and a collection of antiques accumulated by the Royal family throughout the centuries.
One of the most interesting rooms features a to scale ‘dolls house’ of Windsor Castle, detailing how vast the estate really is. Another room, right next to the doll’s house, is a portrait gallery of photos of Queen Elizabeth from a young girl, her coronation, and with her family today; and if you have time stay and watch the Changing of the Guard – the experience is much more personal than at Buckingham Palace.
The first thing I noticed about Bath is that it’s pretty, really pretty. Even in the city centre a harmonious balance between buildings and nature – the hills surrounding the city and river running through – has been used to showcase the city. No wonder it was the place where the British elite came to be pampered and relax during the Georgian era.
When Romans arrived in the area, around AD60, the hills and discovery of hot springs led to the construction of the city of ‘Aquae Sulis’ – “the waters of Sulis” – including establishing baths and a temple. Though the baths fell into disrepair when the Roman occupation of the area failed, the city was revived and became a popular spa town during the Georgian era.
The main highlight of the city, and attraction where you are given express entry into as part of the tour is the excavated and well-preserved Romans Baths. Though you can’t swim in these baths they are an impressive sight with statues of Roman empires leader, including Julius Caesar, adorning the top walk overlooking the Grand Bath.
Wander through the areas housing the bath, discover Roman history, or learn how they excavated and preserve the baths and excavated artefacts; time seemed to disappear as my inner culture nerd emerged, engaged and ready to learn.
The downside of visiting Bath as a group tour was that we only had two hours to see a city, and in the end, I was so engrossed with reading each plaque and making the most of the information about the history of the Roman Baths, all but 10-minutes were spent there. Not even time to learn more about the interesting history that Bath Abbey had and what was with its unique exterior.
On my next trip to the UK a trip back will be on the cards – perhaps a weekend in a boutique hotel in Bath, relaxing by taking a Thermae Bath spa, and finishing the day by getting lost in the words of Jane Austen at the Jane Austen Museum.
As we made it to the top of the hill you could see Stonehenge in the distance, and the excitement on the bus was evident; this was the highlight of the tour for all of us and we had come at the end of the day, just before sunset.
Perhaps one of the United Kingdom’s most iconic sites, Stonehenge’s history remains something of a mystery as no written records have been found about the area. The UNESCO world heritage site, with a carefully cordoned path for visitors to walk, includes several hundred burial mounds dating back to around 3000 BC. Whilst the mounds that are on the same side as Stonehenge have been marked and cordoned off, people quite happily climbed them on the car park side, not realising they were traipsing all over someone’s resting place.
For me, perhaps the most interesting part of Stonehenge’s history is that of its significance as a religious place to the Neopagans and New-druids. Whilst some rituals are still held there, it is carefully controlled, and access to getting up close to the stones is only available with a permit – most commonly during the summer and winter solstice, and the spring and autumn equinox – though special bookings can be made for other times of the year.
There is something, for the want of a better word, magical about those carefully placed rocks, an energy that captivates you. Perhaps the British folklore tales or Druids that worship at Stonehenge are onto something; but I won’t lie when I say I felt a little underwhelmed, perhaps because of the droves of tourists just there for a photo, or perhaps because I was expecting it to be bigger or slightly more remote than being beside the main road.
Was taking a bus tour worth it?
Comfortable seats, a bus driver who knows where he is going, and a guide who was extremely informative have led me to give bus tours a big nod of approval, despite my apprehensive start. The perks of taking a bus tour with Golden Tours included limiting queueing times and not having to research travel logistics, instead, letting you relax and enjoy the experience.
Of course, one downside is the short length of time you have to explore each location. Whilst there was ample time at Windsor and Stonehenge, Bath has so much more to see than just the Roman baths! After the brief stop in the city I have decided I want to travel there independently or perhaps take part in a Bath-focused tour.
Lunch wasn’t provided on this tour but ask your guide where they suggest because they really do know the best spots. I picked up a tasty sandwich from a recommended spot!
I can’t wait to get back to the UK later this year to explore more of the country by day tour. Whilst I still don’t think it’s the ideal method of travelling for me because of the tight schedule which can be impacted by traffic, weather and, as we found out in Bath, people missing the bus, it was still a fantastic way to get a snippet of places which you might want to return to.
Now it’ over to you: