When I was planning this European trip last year, I was conscious not only of including many of our bucket list items in the itinerary, but also of trying out a variety of modes of travel. So we did a river cruise with lots of people through Germany and Austria, a car trip through Belgium and France with my brother and his wife, visits to good friends in Basel and Annecy, and lots of solo travelling in France and Italy. We thought that by the time we arrived in London at the beginning of our tenth week away it might be a good idea to join a group tour again and enjoy the company of some new people. In addition, there was so much I personally wanted to see in Britain, I really didn’t know where to start or stop with an itinerary. So we decided to let Trafalgar Tours do the planning for us. We’d give them the responsibility of deciding the itinerary and moving us around Britain, and we could not only meet some new friends on the tour, but also gain an idea of where we might like to return to in Britain on a future trip under our own steam.
So this morning at 7.30am we rolled our suitcases out of our hotel and joined the bus tour. Fifteen minutes later the bus was on its way through the streets of London. We didn’t get much of an opportunity to meet many people before the tour got underway, but our travel director Rachel came around the bus and spoke to us all personally. For a couple of teachers like Marg and me, it was impressive to watch Rachel learning the names of over fifty people on the bus. It took her just a couple of walks up and down the bus aisle and she was just about able to name everybody.
Much of the first couple of hours was spent driving through green countryside while Rachel took the microphone and went through a lot of the essential information we were going to have to know. She also filled us in, where appropriate, with stories relating to the history of the areas we were passing through. We liked her immediately. She has a very bright, personable nature, and it’s obvious already that she’s put a lot of time, thought and effort into planning for the trip. I know we’re going to enjoy travelling with her.
In Warwickshire we stopped for a group photo, using Anne Hathaway’s beautiful thatched cottage as the backdrop. Unfortunately there was only time to take a few photos before we were back on the bus. I’m sure we would have loved the chance to spend some time there. Just a little further along, in Stratford-Upon-Avon, we stopped for a two hour break. There was time to visit the house where William Shakespeare was born and spent his childhood and early adult life. It was surprisingly spacious, and some aspects of the house indicated that his father, a glove maker, might have been prospering rather well, as there was glass in the windows and there were several beds in the house – items that didn’t come cheaply. While we waited in the queue to enter the house we were entertained by a couple of very talented young Shakespearian actors who performed a humorous scene from The Comedy of Errors for us.
We loved the town of Stratford-Upon-Avon, although unfortunately we only had a couple of hours there. After we left Shakespeare’s house we stopped for a Cornish pastie, which claimed to be the world’s best. It was pretty good, but I’m sure I’ve had better back home. We walked down to the Avon River, where I watched my first British barge in a lock scenario. That may not be exciting for you, but it was for me, as one of my favourite teaching topics in recent years has been the Industrial Revolution, and canals, barges and locks play a key role in that story.
Back on the road again, we travelled past some familiar place names, including Sheffield and Leeds, which made me think of our good friend Art, who has shared some wonderful stories about the music scene here during his formative years. We also passed a sign to Barnsley, birthplace of my fourth great grandfather John Allen in 1760. Poor John fell foul of the law and was imprisoned in York, and then transported to New South Wales in 1811. I guess I have him to thank for the fact that I call Australia home. Barnsley has also been home to three great cricket identities – Sir Geoffrey Boycott, Dicky Bird, and Sir Michael Parkinson, who was indeed a handy batsman in his day.
We arrived in York just after 4.30pm and were delighted to see our friends Chris and Lynne waiting for us in the lounge. We met Chris and Lynne, who live in York, on the Scenic river cruise at the beginning of our travels and we really enjoyed their company over the two weeks we spent with them. They shared their contact details with us and promised to come over to our hotel for a drink once we made it to York if time allowed. It was so good to see them again. We ordered a bottle of bubbly, and spent the next hour swapping stories and having a good laugh about incidents on our travels. Seeing a familiar friendly face is a great tonic when you’ve been on your own on the road for a while, and catching up with Chris and Lynne really gave us a boost.
Tomorrow we’ll spend some time on a walking tour of York before heading north to Scotland.