Having learned that ‘Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge tour’ is the best- selling tour from London, I insisted that we should take the trip. I thought if I lucked out, I could get discount tickets by 10 %. It ended up costing £69 each, which is reasonable for a guided tour from London (better than flagging down bus after bus).
The most awaited day, Monday: Got up early, walked the track and waited for the tour bus in front of Marriott Hotel-Kensington. And as written on the voucher, the bus should pick us up at 7:45. We were there at 7:30. Along with the other excited tourists, we waited for the bus. At long last, a tour bus stopped by for pick up. The tour guide (holding a list) got off the bus and started checking her list. All of us, of course, presented our reservation tickets to the guide. But when we showed ours, she said: “Apologies, haplessly, this is not your tour bus.” So we kept on waiting and no bus popped by to collect us. We waited in vain till 8:30am. With puckered brows, we hurried back to the hotel to bellyache about this. The receptionist telephoned the company and did the inquiry. Eventually, we were instructed to go to the office location where buses were waiting. We zoomed to the Tube, got on the train, ran like cheetahs and finally blowed in at Victoria Station in time for the 8:45 departure. Whew! The bus ended up leaving at 9 something though as a consequence of some chaotic list hitch.
Follow the Pink Umbrella
I. WINDSOR CASTLE
Built high above the River Thames, Windsor Castle has been home to the Royal Family for 900 years and is still an Official Residence of the Queen. It’s the world’s largest and oldest castle.
To do and see:
(1) Visit the magnificent State Apartments at your leisure which are still used for State occasions and Royal receptions. The Apartments are made up of the drawing rooms, salons, ballrooms etc. The rooms themselves are striking- the paintings of previous monarchs, old weapons, world renowned artworks, wow! It’s simply spectacular.
(2) Visit the fourteenth-century St. George’s chapel, one of the most beautiful examples of medieval church architecture in England and a burial place of numerous kings and queens reside, notably Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour
(3) Check out Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House and be amazed by the magnitude and intricate design of the world’s most famous Dolls’ House
By the time we got off the bus in Windsor, we took the trek up to the castle even without listening to the whole blah blahs of our pinky tour guide. The only distinct to me was: “Please follow my pink umbrella.” Ok, maybe she was implying she was the fairest of them (tour guides) all… haha! Peace coach, I’m just clowning. Pointing to the raised flag, our dear TG(tour guide) told us that the Queen was home but I didn’t spot her. But some did- lucky peeps! (The Queen’s flag, ‘the Royal Standard’, is raised at the top of the castle while she is there).
We had about 1 1/2 hours to spend in Windsor Castle; we didn’t see all the good stuff especially the changing of the guards due to time pressure.
BTW, when you’re posing for the camera with costumed people right outside the castle (particularly the part that faces the street), be sure that you have some pence in your pocket, I mean coins. They’re aware of you and the camera- one click demands 1gbp on their hands or coin baskets. Drop a pound, then you can take picture of them with you. Clever! Maybe I should wear a jaw-dropping costume and roam around the Castle, then and there, I can make some dosh! Humor me.
Before hitting the next stop, the bus pulls in at a traditional English pub near Stonehenge where you can tantalize your taste buds with traditional British food.
II. MYSTERIOUS STONEHENGE
The very reason I’ve chosen this trip was all because of the Stonehenge. I like visiting sacred sites; they just have this elevated energy that can be felt but that feeling is unfathomable or profound on many levels. Sounds creepy.
Certainly the best known of all megalithic sites, Stonehenge stands in isolation on the undulating chalk of Salisbury Plain, west of Amesbury, between the busy A303 and A344 roads. At first sight this unique and enigmatic site appears smaller than imagined, but the tallest upright stone is 6.7m (22ft) high, with another 2.4m (8ft) below ground. The site is also a beautiful spot surrounded by burial mounts.
Got to admit, my mind had been excitedly thrilled to see the ‘mystery-clouded’ Stonehenge and I’d been itching to come up with my own theory about the Stones but I’ve got to see it first.
On the road: Marge, our tourist guide, was untiringly imparting her travel expertise while I, the diligent tourist, was up to jotting down notes. I’ve got no notebook with me so I just scribbled on a magazine (TIME) some appealing stuff from Marge’s tales. I’m actually turning pages at this moment to recollect what she told us on the bus. In advance, Marge asked us to feel the spirit of the Stonehenge so we could craft a concept of the mysterious stones. But why make a fuss out of those stones? “It’s just a pile of stones!” emphasized Kimberley.
When we arrived at the site, some sounded thwarted… So this is the Stonehenge?! But if you look through the stones, there was something in them. As I wandered around, I got captivated by the unique rock formation: 40 ton rocks stand alone since their arrival 5,000 years ago. Being so near this mysterious settlement with its fascinating and ancient history gave me an apparitional feeling, I just delusionally assumed . This ancient circle of Stonehenge is indeed an amazing feat of engineering and the most important prehistoric site in England that’s surrounded by abundance of theories and is always overwhelmed with tourists
I was disappointed though for I didn’t get the chance to hug any of those stones even just for the sake of photo-ops. Tsk. Visitors are no longer permitted to touch the stones and the inside parts of Stonehenge have been long closed to tourists and visitors since 1974 because of vandalism. Back in the 19th century (so I’ve read), tourists were given a small hammer and pick to take a piece of Stonehenge home with them. But now, they require visitor to stand behind a rope about 30 feet away from the actual pile of rocks. However, by paying about double the entrance fee you get to step over the rope and walk through and touch the stones. But to obtain a pass for the “Inner Circle Tour”, you have to contact the Stonehenge visitor office by phone or email and set up an appointment. This inner circle tours are only allowed before and after normal visiting hours. We didn’t have time for this. Otherwise, we could have stayed longer there until all the visitors were gone! Just my spooky thought.
Free audios, that could guide us along the way, were also given to us but I didn’t spend my time listening to it while viewing. I’d rather take a lot of photos at the location. Regrettably, as we were speeding through, Kimberley forgot to get my “jumpy” signature photo. Also, asking strangers to take pictures of us wasn’t easy especially when you wanted some striking or jumping photos.
Back to the mystery, “Who did build the Stonehenge?” This was Marge’s question that got stuck in my mind. Until now, I’m bewildered by the creation myths and I don’t know which one to believe and no one knows for sure the unquestionable history of Stonehenge.
So They Say:
a) Early legends link it with Merlin (the Wizard directing it to be removed from Ireland because of some superhuman giant) and King Arthur, but over the last hundred years the midsummer sunrise has attracted pagan groups and followers of the Ancient Order of Druids.
b) They also said that the stones were transported by slaves to create a religious temple.
c) Astronomically, this mysterious monument served as a clock, used for both the solar and lunar calendars.
d) Archaeological Significance: The Stonehenge was a Bronze Age burial ground.
Interestingly enough… Once you see it, decide for yourself whether Stonehenge was a place of sun worship, a healing sanctuary, a sacred burial place, a site for a planned temple or something different altogether. Who says Stonehenge is not worth seeing? It’s just a pile of stones, but I got stoned when I saw it.
Written at Stonehenge
Thou noblest monument of Albion’s isle!
Whether by Merlin’s aid, from Scythia’s shore,
To Amber’s fatal plain Pendragon bore,
Huge frame of giant-hands, the mighty pile
T’ entomb his Britons slain by Hengist’s guile:
Or Druid priests, sprinkled with human gore,
Taught ‘mid thy massy maze their mystic lore:
Or Danish chiefs, enrich’d with savage spoil,
To Victory’s idol vast, an unhewn shrine,
Rear’d the rude heap: or, in thy hallow’d round,
Repose the kings of Brutus’ genuine line;
Or here those kings in solemn state were crown’d:
Studious to trace thy wondrous origine,
We muse on many an ancient tale renown’d.
Thomas Warton the younger, 1777
III. THE BATH
-the England’s most beautiful Georgian City
Taking THE BATH CITY was the last leg of the day. Our trip here was as reinvigorating as taking a plunge into a natural hot spring. Dubbed a World Heritage Site in 1987, the breathtaking beauty of Bath is surrounded by other equally splendid examples of the heavenly English countryside including the Cotswolds, Somerset and Wilshire. More to the fact, Bath was the first city in England to receive this prestige and proudly stands on the slopes of the River Avon.
The City of Bath is also one of the most famous secrets of England because it’s still partly undiscovered. Nearly 2,000 years ago the Romans established a complicated system of baths and a Sacred Temple. This city is a vibrant place in middle England with numerous galleries, theatres, restaurants, tea rooms and excellent shopping areas.
To do and see:
a) Enjoy a whistle stop tour of Bath’s famous monuments from the comfort of your seat.
b) Take in Bath Abbey, which saw the coronation of the first British King in 973AD. On the front of the church, there are angels climbing the ladders to heaven on the outside of the stonework.
c) Admire the architecture of the stunning Royal Crescent.
d) Marvel at the famous Pulteney Bridge, modelled on the Florentine Ponte Vecchio.
e) Explore the Roman Baths, built around thermal springs, which have been supplying water for over 2,000 years. In Roman times, a great Temple was built next to the sacred spring – the waters were believed to have healing properties and attracted visitors from across the Roman Empire.
When we were lining up to get inside the temple, it so happened that we were at the back of the queue, hence, we didn’t get what our tour guide had just said. And for us not to be misled, we pleaded for the rewind of her directive utterances. What we got was nagging words . “What? You didn’t hear what I said?!” said she cantankerously.
Me: “Well, we were at the back so we couldn’t hear yah.” She then exasperatingly repeated what she just said and gave us plastic money chips for the entry and for a glass of Spa water.
As we ducked in, we were given (as usual) a little audio guides that looked like the very first models of cell phones, to help us understand the sights and every room we entered and passed by.
Bath houses are the best preserved Roman Spa from the ancient world. The Great Central Bath has a greenish shade and the water itself was very hot. It looked more like a swimming pool with nice pillars and old statues surrounding the site. You might think the water was clean but never get tempted to dip your hands in it; it’s been actually infested with different pests, rats and other germy creatures over the years.
THE PUMP ROOM
When I saw the label of this room, I couldn’t help myself but chuckle. Pump Room? Pumping what? Pump, the magic water! As I walked in, I told the lady in charge that I had a ticket, so she gave me a glass of the famous Spa water- a glass cost 50pence. I enjoyed drinking the water straight from the historic Pump Room, others didn’t because of its weird taste. Believing that the spa water has a magical-rejuvenating effect, I lapped up all that was given to me, to the last drop! The spa water was quite hot and had an unexplainable flavor.
Out of the Baths: There is a lot to see in the Roman Baths- artifacts, millennia- old coins and mosaics. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to explore everything inside because we decided to see more of this Georgian City. Some chose to stay put in the Bath instead of going around as we only had less than an hour left before leaving the city.
After trotting around the Roman Baths, we sped off to have a glimpse of the city. We strolled around and took some photos of the River Avon and the Pulteney Bridge; it was a marvelous site, I so admired the city’s architectural splendour.
River Avon: While catching sight of the River, I was reminded by one of the remarkable things from the talkies of our tour guide- about the Avon River. The River Avon is a river in the south west of England. Because of a number of other Rivers Avon in England, this river is often also known as the Lower Avon or Bristol Avon. The Avon rises near Chipping Sodbury in Gloucestershire, dividing into two before merging again and flowing through Wiltshire. In its lower reaches from Bath to the River Severn at Avonmouth near Bristol the river is navigable and known as the “Avon Navigation”.
According to her, the name Avon is a cognate of the Welsh word ‘afon’ meaning “river” (f is pronounced as v in Welsh), so if you put these 2 words together, you call the river “River River”.
As soon as we were done with pictorials, we headed back to the bus and went home. We got back to London around 8pm after 350 miles of travel. T’was a looong day but all in all it was an amazing voyage… zzz…
Just a Memo: This trip runs for almost 12 hours but it gives you a brief time to see some wonderful sights. Here’s the deal: You will never get to see everything at Windsor and Bath because the tour is like ‘hit and run’ or ‘touch and go’. There is so much to explore at these sites. But since the tour company was such in a hurry to get to the next destination, we never even had time to sit down, enjoy the site and pore over the enchantment of the place. Walked fast, peeked in, took photos, and then rushed back to the bus. Don’t ever think about getting late for the bus or you’d get chewed out. Well, they were just doing their job. A million thanks to Marge (our coach) and Derek (the bus driver) for this great trip!