Ultimate Road Trip in England: Stonehenge, Cotswolds, and Bath
Renting a car in the middle of London is a challenge for us yanks who are used to driving on the right side of the road. Instead of traffic lights it seems we were constantly challenged with traffic circles that were unlabeled. OK, there were some traffic lights but those roundabouts scared me. It took us almost 2 hours to drive south to Stonehenge. I had never seen this wonder of the world and was a bit curious.
It is oddly located out in the middle of fields near the town of Amesbury. Archaeologists believe it was built between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. Much research has been done including Radiocarbon dating which indicate Stonehenge was a burial ground and that the 2 ton blue stones, which may have been believed to have special qualities, were likely moved from Wales by lifting them and carrying them with rows of poles. A tourist center is near the car park where some videos and artifacts are displayed, along with a gift shop and dining area.
I bought a rain hat to go with my raincoat as it was a drizzly day and very cold and windy.
Next, we drove to an Airbnb in the Cotswolds. First thing we realized was that either our car was too big, or the roads were too small! Many of the lanes we drove on were narrow and quite curvy often with homes touching the street. But the rolling hills and thatched cottages, sheep and stone walls were absolutely charming.
We stopped at the local grocery store and brought some food back to the cottage for the next 2 days. Our cottage was a nice one bedroom unit with fireplace and a full kitchen. They even had a washer/dryer combination that somehow I figured out how to use! I could definitely appreciate one of these in my bedroom.
The next morning we fixed ourselves breakfast and headed off to nearby Sudeley Castle. This castle is the burial place for Henry the VIII’s sixth and last wife Catherine Parr and contains her marble tomb in the chapel. A gift shop and admission help support the upkeep of the castle and extensive gardens.
We found a small inn for lunch in the nearby town of Winchcombe. It had been raining off and on all day so a good hearty stew made for a delicious midday meal. We drove through a few more towns and found our way back to the cottage. Jet lag started to sneak up so we napped the rest of the rainy afternoon and woke up in time to head into Stow-on-the-Wold for dinner at the King’s Arms inn.
The next morning brought a surprise… the sun was shining. I was so excited. I even drove the car once: from the parking spot on the farm to the cottage, about 100 yards. We packed up and left the cottage and headed back into the market town of Stow-on-the-Wold, often declared the most beautiful of villages in the Cotswolds. We did some walking and shopping. The lovely woman in the antique store, where I bought an old Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme book, tried not to be too excited about the sunshine – she exclaimed that if you get too happy about it, it will just rain again soon.
I love the stone walls, and the doors and the old churches and even the old gravestones. So much history all over England.
We left the cottage and headed for our last 2 nights at Thornbury Castle. Isn’t it every little girl’s dream to spend the night in a castle – or is it just to be a princess? Either way, once we climbed the spiral stone staircase to the Dukes Bedchamber I was in total awe. The room was amazing and the whole experience of the castle was like being in a fairy tale. We dressed for a fancy dinner where we started with a cocktail in the library (Just like Downton Abbey) The menus were given to us and we decided on our meals. Then we were escorted into the main dining room. I ordered cod cheeks for my appetizer and lamb for dinner. The chef is creative and offers a tasting menu as well. The meals were unique in the way he added different ingredients we had never heard of before.
The next morning breakfast was included in our stay and we had a cold buffet and ordered a hot breakfast as well. Our next adventure took us to the riverside city of Bristol. We crossed over the Clifton suspension bridge and took a walk around the park and town of Clifton.
We drove into downtown Bristol to see where the story of Treasure Island that I had read to my boys when they were young took place. We saw the LLandoger Trow, a pub which is said to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson to write of the Admiral Benbow inn. Unfortunately they were closed for renovations so we had lunch at 3 Brothers Burgers for a taste of home cooking. We had fun wandering the streets along the Avon river and after passing a few boats in the floating harbor came across the museum for the S.S. Great Britain. We paid admission and enjoyed walking under and inside the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic in 1845.
Like everything in England she had a history. After years of providing transportation from Bristol to New York for 360 passengers she was sold in 1852 and carried thousands of immigrants to Australia until 1881. She was then retired to the Falkland Islands and used as a warehouse until scuttled in 1937. In 1970 she was towed back to Bristol to the same dry dock where she was built and is a museum attraction for all to enjoy.
After sightseeing it was time to find our next meal. We headed back to Thornbury, the town with our castle in it, and found an Indian restaurant which served tasty food as the influence from India has been in England for some time now.
On our last morning we had breakfast in the castle and then headed out towards London for our flight back to New York. When we realized that the city of Bath was nearby, we made a quick detour.
What a gorgeous old city with ancient walls still visible, a stunning Abbey, quaint streets and even signs of the Roman Empire available if you visit the Baths from natural hot springs or head to the downstairs of Sally Lunn’s Bun shop. This old shop, dated from 1482, had a museum in the cellar that showed how she baked her French buns as well as some evidence of the Roman city that Bath was eventually built over.
After a cup of tea and a sandwich in the Bath Bun Tea Shop we walked back to the car park to sadly head towards the airport. The vacation was over.
We were in for quite alarmed when we started back on the M4 highway to London and were suddenly stopped completely for a good 20 minutes. People were getting out of the cars and everything. Looking for information on the phone only frightened us more when the website stated that the accident should be cleared in 3 hours. WHAT? I did some praying and we started moving again. We made it to the car return in time and caught the plane to New York, but that M4 does have the reputation of being a “PARKWAY” at times. Good to know!
One more bit of advice for anyone traveling internationally: Download the APP called “Mobile Passport”. Hardly anyone was using it when we arrived in New York. If you simply show your phone with the information filled in on a bar code from that app, you can go on the short line at Customs, with the flight attendants, and avoid the 30 minute long wait with everyone else!
I had the most amazing time on this trip to England. After our first 2 Days in London at Easter the drive in the countryside was relaxing and fun. I am so glad that I have found someone to travel with who makes me smile. I could never have done a trip like this on my own – I want to thank Pete for making my dream trip come true and for showing me love again.
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