Travelling in the 90s – road trip UK

Welcome to the next installment of Travelling in the 90s, which comprises extracts of my 1993-1994 first ever overseas travel journal. Many things have changed since then. Many things have not.

It’s Christmas Eve and we’re heading to St Paul’s cathedral…

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[Sunday 26 December, 1993] Friday was a cold, windy day, and we were freezing and very upset to find the British Museum closed, being Christmas Eve. We then decided to check out St Paul’s Cathedral. It too was closed. However, things began to look brighter when we learned it was to reopen in an hour for a carol service at 4:00 pm.

We went back and ended up with pretty good seats. What would Christmas be without a carol service? It was a really lovely service — we sang every possible carol except for Silent Night, and heard all possible Christmas readings. The choir was lovely and sang some modern Christmas carols.

But the cathedral! It’s fairly magnificent. There are beautiful paintings on the domed ceilings, and the whole building has a majestic aura. To partake of a carol service at St Paul’s was something wonderful. What better place to spend Christmas Eve?

Today we went to Leeds Castle. This originates from Norman times with bits being added over the years. Henry VIII owned it at one time (I think Catherine Parr lived there after his death). We went all around the castle, and learned interesting things — such as that in Tudor times, the Queen received people on a huge bed which was never slept in, but used as a status symbol.

Leeds Castle, Kent

Leeds Castle, Kent

The parks and grounds were gorgeous, and we had a nice day for England — it didn’t rain, and we even saw the sun! There was a hedge maze (which we got lost in) and also a rather impressive aviary with many Australian and South American birds. It was a thoroughly wonderful day, topped off by scones and coffee in a barn-like hall.

[Thursday 30 December, 1993] Well. ENGLAND PHASE TWO begins now, as we arrived in Badsey (staying with family friends) in our snazzy car. We picked it up yesterday as planned — a brand new “diamond white” ROVER. It has power steering, sun roof, electronic windows, side window de-misters, 5 gears, central locking… and indicators on the wrong side of the steering wheel column.

This last made driving home from Croydon rather interesting. I drove — with the only mishap being a full circumnavigation of an enormous double round-about! We then took this glorious car out for a spin down in the direction of Hever castle — which was closed — but the scenery around this part of Kent is beautiful.

However, it is becoming a bit of a drag to find everything we want to see closed. The freezing weather I had anticipated, but not the winter hibernation of half the historical buildings in the UK.

A-Z_15

A-Z Road Atlas: Christmas present from our hosts!

This morning we left Kent and hit the road for Badsey (near Evesham), intending to stop and do something on the way. I was driving, and found the motorways quite enjoyable (some might disagree). We stopped at Woodstock, which is just out of Oxford, for lunch — hoping that Blenheim Palace was open (no). This was one of the first lunches we had not packed, and we were quite surprised at how expensive things were. We found a little cafe and had toasted sandwiches and a danish pastry with coffee.

Unfortunately the local tourist office was also in hibernation, so we went straight to Badsey. That night we became acclimatised and made plans. We are all going walking in the Malvern Hills on New Years Day.

I can’t wait to see the English countryside: hills, lakes, rivers, and all the little villages in between. There is so much to see — including a town with THIRTY second-hand bookshops. We think a day would do for there! The next four weeks are going to be really hectic, but out little car should make it fun.

[Saturday 1 January, 1994] Well, 1994 — What will it bring? The stars say lots of money — Good! Yesterday we went into Evesham to do some shopping and visit the tourist office — which was of course closed. It will supposedly be reopening next week — hmmm. We then took our lovely car down to Wynchcombe. Sudeley castle was ALSO closed, but we walked down a public footpath which gave us a fairly good view — lovely — and it was a glorious day.

We then took our packed lunch to Belas Knap long barrow (which took a few U-turns and traversing private property to find) at the top of a lovely green grassy hill. We climbed it out of necessity to find the barrow and a fantastic view. It was a very nice barrow — a hump really. However, despite the sunshine, it was still very cold.

Hales Barrow

Top – Belas Knap Long Barrow; Bottom – Hales Abbey

Following the barrow we went to Hales Abbey, now very much a ruin, but we were guided around by a resident lay-brother who died of the plague, and then the senior choirmaster (via a tape recording). We were told all the history, and I could actually imagine what the abbey was like, and how the monks etc lived.

The abbey was previously a popular destination for pilgrims, as they supposedly had some of the blood from Christ’s body. At the end of our tour we were very cold and had very muddy boots.

New Year’s Eve we were taken to three pubs: The Vauxhall, the Norton Grange, and then the Queen’s Head. After wine with dinner, cider at the pub, and then Baileys both H and I were very merry by the end of the evening! But we weren’t driving. And despite the fact that we didn’t really know anybody, missed the countdown, and missed hearing Big Ben chime in the New Year, it was one of the best New Years I’ve had.

Today we slept in (surprise), but eventually the five of us packed up a lunch and went to the Malvern Hills for a walk. I totally overexerted myself on the way up, but once there it was lovely — devoid of trees entirely, with soft, spongy grass. We wandered about for a while, (among the crowds of overkeen walkers for the day after New Years Eve) before reluctantly descending (driven down by the biting wind) to a carpark lunch.

Apparently you HAVE to drink the Malvern Waters, so we drove around looking for, and eventually found, Holy Well, before heading home for a quiet evening.

***

Hiring a car and taking a road trip around the UK remains the best way to see this place. It was bold for us back then, given our budget, but this marked the beginning of a fabulous month of road touring. Even though so many sites were closed…

Has anyone else tried to tour the UK in the dead of winter?

4 comments

  1. Haven’t tried to tour the UK in the winter (or any other season) but would love to do what you did. Road trippin’ from place to place sounds lovely right about now. BTW – I’m so impressed with your journal and recollection of your travels!

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  2. Just now getting to this post…I too have toured the UK at Christmas! It was a mixed experience, with some lovely bits and some not-so-lovely bits, but then that goes for most travel, doesn’t it?

    I looked up seasonal closings ahead of time (totally addicted to travel guidebooks) so I was mostly able to plan around them, but it was still a bit of a surprise how quiet London got. We saw St. Paul’s and the British Museum but missed out on Westminster Abbey because it was closed.

    Our biggest difficulty was trying to find a place that offered a Christmas dinner! (Some of our fellow B&B guests opted for Chinese food instead….) And I was sick (I always seem to get sick when I travel) and the dampness sure didn’t help.

    All the Christmas decorations everywhere were beautiful, though, with the old buildings and such — especially in Bath. We caught a nice choral concert in Trafalgar Square and a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Outside of London, we did a very damp self-guided walking tour in the Cotswolds (which didn’t turn out so well, but that’s another story). And yes, we did eventually find Christmas dinner!

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    1. We were so young and green 20 years ago we never even thought to look at seasonal closures… but it meant we saw some sites a bit more off the beaten track, as we shall see in subsequent posts.

      Our Christmas was spent with the family we were staying with, so very traditional. Glad you eventually found a satisfactory Christmas dinner!

      And the account of our visit to Bath (and other fabulous places in the region) is coming up soon!

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