For a university town, Cambridge sure is peaceful! It’s hard to believe that Pink Floyd played their first gigs here. You can easily visit all the universities within a day, however do check which ones are open to visitors as they change regularly throughout the school year. The best way to see the colleges is along River Cam via a punting tour. This will take you along what is known as the college ‘backs’. I believe the buildings were actually designed to be viewed this way, with the fronts of the college facing the river.
Many influential and respected people have studied in Cambridge, including over 80 Nobel Prize winners. One of the most memorable for me is AA Milne. Some of the first Winnie-the-Pooh books are at Trinity College where the original illustrations can be accessed in the library. Issac Newton was also busy studying at Trinity College, experimenting with universal gravitation while Stephen Hawking at Trinity Hall contributed to the fields of cosmology and quantum gravity. It was also at Christ’s College (pictured) that Charles Darwin proposed the theory of natural selection.
If you are going to take a punting tour go early in the morning before everyone gets there and crowds up the river. Also, there is the option to do it yourself but please don’t! You will only cause problems and hold up others along the river. Trust the pro’s, sit back, relax and enjoy the tour without worrying about running into others.
You cannot leave the UK without visiting the historical city of York. The city is only 2 hours by train from London and is largely traffic free so if you are driving be sure to use a park and ride. You can walk around the medieval walls of the city and through its beautifully preserved cobbled stone streets, while peeking in through old shop windows. We enjoyed walking through ‘The Shambles‘, an ancient butchers’ street mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror in 1086. This is the oldest shopping street in Europe and leads right to York Minster.
York Minster is an outstanding preserved building with the largest and most diverse collection of medieval stained glass in Britain. The great east window took three years to complete starting in 1405 and depicts the beginning and the end, from Genesis to Revelation. We had great weather when we visited and could climb up the winding staircase of the central tower. We got up close and personal with the gargoyles and overlooked the city from the top before heading over to the National Railway Museum, the largest railway museum in the world.
We could have easily spent the day at the National Railway Museum. Trains are just one of those things that are always going to be fun to go see. The museum features some of the Royal carriages including one that was used by Queen Victoria in 1869. Queen Adelaide’s saloon is the world’s oldest surviving railway carriage and is in the station hall. Station hall was built in the 1870s and today is used to provide visitors with an experience of being in a station from the past. You can even climb into one of the carriages. The museum is also the home to the famous locomotive, the Flying Scotsman.
We definitely could have used more time in York, however we only had the afternoon to explore. Some other highlights worth checking out in the city are JORVIK viking center and Clifford’s Tower.
New Mills is a town we will never forget! After visiting the area three times in the past year, it was our home away from home and a refreshing escape out of the city. We stayed with family and each visit reminded us of being back at home. We would watch movies together with plenty of snacks and find new recipes to try in the kitchen. David also learned some new cooking techniques that I will make sure he puts into practice soon. We will miss our family in New Mills when we move back to Canada and are looking forward to them visiting us in the future. Other fun things about New Mills are 1) they have a candy factory 2) they have the best Fish n Chips place 3) they have beautiful walking paths through the Torrs and 4) they have an old school railway station.
Swizzles Matlow Ltd. (the candy factory), has been located in New Mills since the 1940s after relocating from the London Blitz during WWII. During this time the factory was being used to make water purifying tablets for the Ministry of Defense. In 1957 they launched my personal favourite candy of theirs, the Drumstick lolly, the only chewable lollypop available at that time. Today they are one of the largest employers in the area with their sweets being constantly in demand from the public.
For the outdoors type, Torrs gorges, created during the ice age, are beautiful to walk through in New Mills. The area is known as the park beneath the town with rivers Sett and Goyt intersecting. New Mills has a history of being a leader in renewable energy with 18 mills once surrounding the area. Today they have the Archimedean screw (they call it Archie), a rotating turbine attached to a generator used to produce clean, green electricity. They are the first town in the UK to own and run community hydro, Torrs Hydro.
Finally, the Fish n Chips in New Mills are fabulous. It’s the batter that make them stand out from the rest, and of course making sure the fish is fresh. Our family took us to two places where they are amazing, 1) the golf course and 2) The Crispy Cod. The railway station in New Mills is also picturesque and a great viewpoint. The railway was opened in 1868.
Today we set out on our final road trip around the UK before heading back to Canada. Our first stop along the way was Oxford, the world’s most famous university town. You can park just outside the city for free and a local bus will take you into the city center for only £2.25 return. Plenty of cities in the UK have these, taking away the stress of parking downtown and eliminating some of the congestion.
The oldest college in Oxford was established in 1249! Many famous authors studied at Oxford including Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), C.S. Lewis (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), and JRR Tolkien (The Lord of the Rings). Lewis Carroll was actually enrolled as Charles Dodgson in 1851 at Christ Church College for mathematics. During his time he wrote a story for Alice Liddell, the daughter of the Dean and her many adventures around the college grounds and Oxford. The shop in ‘Through the Looking Glass’ was modeled off of a small grocery shop in Oxford (only with details reversed) and today is known as Alice’s Shop. This is the only tangible link to the stories in Oxford however it becomes easy to imagine the many places in the tales after walking around the town.
The Bodleian Library, also known as the bod, is part of the University of Oxford and is worth checking out. The library was opened in 1602 and today carries 9 million items on 176km of shelving. Two sections are open to the public including The Divinity School that was built in 1427. Close to Bodleian Library is Hertford Bridge, completed in 1914 connecting two parts of Hertford College. The bridge is photographed by many visitors as it resembles the Rialto Bridge in Venice. I personally think there should be no comparison after seeing both.
The University Church of St Mary the Virgin can not be missed when visiting Oxford and if you have time, climb up the tower. Back in medieval times when Oxford was a walled city, the church stood in the center. During this time scholars lived in the same house as their teachers meaning there was no need for university buildings, however they used St. Mary’s as their hub. As centuries passed universities started to expand and all business was removed from the church by the middle of the 17th century.
Oh to be out in the country again! The small towns on the Isle of Wight make for the perfect weekend getaway and the best part is, you don’t need a car to get there. We jumped on a bus from London to Clarence Pier and much to our surprise crossed over to Ryde in just 10 minutes via hovercraft. The Hovercraft travel is the quickest form of transportation over to the island but make sure you book your ticket in advance if you plan on traveling at peak hours. Ryde was our base for the trip as it provided direct buses to most points of the island as well as access to all the open bus tours when you buy a 24h or 48h travel pass.
Our first journey was on the Downs Breezer, an open top bus ride. It was a great way to take in the countryside without having a vehicle. The bus stopped at all the major sights along the way with a brief description of their historical significance, we even passed by the most haunted place on the island. The main attraction I was looking forward to was The Garlic Farm, UK’s renowned garlic specialists. We took part in the ‘garlic experience’, trying all of their products and were taught about the many different kinds of garlic, how to grow your own and its medical benefits. We picked up some to bring back with us as well as a tasty roasted garlic mayonnaise. The island has a garlic festival in August every year, my type of place! We took the the bus to Sandsdown beach in the evening for a calming meal overlooking the water.
The following morning we had an action packed day as we crossed to the other side of the island to Needles Park. Unfortunately it had rained, so it was foggy on the water. We took the chair lift down to the beach overlooking the famous multi-coloured sands in the cliffs. From the chairs you get an incredible view! A trip to island is not complete without visiting East Cowes and the Osborne House. This is where Queen Victoria and Prince Albert lived peacefully enjoying their private life. The property contains their own private beach, Swiss cottage and walled garden. Beautiful detailing is found throughout the building from the ceilings to the floor and customized with their initials. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert would often give artwork to each other as gifts and the house is filled with original artifacts. If we had more time on the island we probably would have gone for a picnic on her private beach to soak up some extra sun! Perhaps next time…
Brighton, home to the extravagant pleasure palace of George IV, also known as the Royal Pavilion. The oriental structure is unlike any building you will see in all of England. It only costs £8.50 if you are a student to go inside and see how extravagant the interior is. From the 12 foot long dragon on top of a chandelier to the Great Kitchen containing the latest in modern equipment of the 1800s it is well worth the money to see for yourself. No photos are allowed to be taken inside. The King was often scrutinized in public due to his obesity at age 30 so there was an underground passageway from the pavilion to the stables for private access. The Royal Stables at the Royal Pavilion are now the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery as well as the Dome Concert Hall. As a country, the UK makes good use of what space is available to them in times of crisis. During WWI the pavilion was used as an Indian Military Hospital housing 724 beds treating over 4,000 Indians and Gurkhas. York Place schools were also converted into a hospital at that time.
After picnicking at the pavilion gardens we made our way down to the famous pebble beach which is hard to believe is even real! It is said there are around 614,600,000 pebbles on Brighton beach and don’t you dare think about ‘pebble pinching’, taking one home as a keepsake. It’s illegal to do so and they are asking visitors to the beach who have taken one in the past to ‘please return the pebble’. We walked along the famous Brighton Pier then along the promenade past the remains of West Pier. We found a room through airbnb that worked out perfectly, walking distance to everything in the town. Finally, before we caught our train home we browsed a few of the off beat shops on North Laine and took in all the graffiti art along the walls throughout the town.
Bath is the perfect location for a relaxing weekend getaway! There is no need to purchase transit tickets as you can see all the sights easily by foot. UNESCO added the entire city as a cultural site to its World Heritage List in 1987 so everywhere you walk there is something that will catch your eye.
My two favourite parks and gardens are located in the Royal Victoria Park and behind the Holburne Museum. Royal Victoria Park is 57 acres of land below the Royal Crescent, pictured above. This park was the first ever to be named after Princess Victoria when she was just 11 years old. The park officially opened in 1830. The Holburne Museum gardens features beautiful trees, bridges, and maps out the location of where castle ruins were found as well as a labyrinth garden. The museum is also free entry.
The most shocking part of our trip to Bath was when we ate out at the Garrick’s Head, located near the theatre. We found out, after we ate there, that we were in one of the many haunted buildings of Bath. The lady ghost had been sighted both in the boxed seats in the theatre and in the pub. On a less haunted note, we also enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Pump Room with live music, you could easily sit in there for hours. Beside the pump room is the old roman baths museum, visible from the windows inside the pump room. In the same square is the Abbey, one of the last medieval churches of England. You are welcome to visit inside, however it is closed on a Sunday for services. Pulteney Bridge is worth walking through with shops inside it however it is best viewed from Parade Gardens park below.
After living in London for 8 months we finally visited the Tower of London, the scene of some of Britain’s most fascinating yet shocking history. I highly recommend taking the tour from the Yeomen Warders a.k.a. the Beefeaters. The tour leaves every 30 minutes from the front entrance. I found ‘Beefeaters’ to be a very strange name, but it is said to have originated when part of the Yeomen Warders’ salary was paid through chunks of beef. Believe it or not this happened right up until the 1800s. Another fun fact about these guys is their families as well as themselves actually live inside the tower! I would be too creeped out to be roaming around during the evening there with all the ghost stories I’ve heard about the tower. To be a Yeoman Warder you are required to have served in the army for at least 22 years with an honourable record. Apparently they are in the process of hiring a new one too!
The line up to see the crowned jewels is massive throughout the day but if you wait until the very end of the day before close it is significantly shorter or get there first thing in the morning. They are worth seeing, however don’t waste your entire day standing in line as there is much more to check out. Across from the jewels is the White Tower, one of the most historic buildings in the world. Inside the tower are numerous sets of armour including Henry VIII’s, as well as an 11th century chapel and an interactive section for kids where they can draw a bow and handle a sword.
The tower is also famous for their ravens. It is said that as long as ravens stay at the tower, Britain will endure. During the WWII bombing blitz, these ravens were almost all wiped out or scared away. Only one survived, whose name was Gyp. The ravens were not the only animals around the palace though. For over 600 years ‘royal beasts’, roamed about the palace in the Royal Menagerie. These exotic animals were given as gifts. This special exhibit, which is included with your ticket price, is located in the Brick Tower. The first animals recorded in the palace were in 1210. Some of the more notable animal residents included lions, an elephant and even a polar bear! However, due to various incidents (you can use your imagination there) the animals left in 1832 to their home in London Zoo.
As you can tell this post is longer than most, yet this is not even close to everything you can see, do and learn at Tower of London. You’ll just have to go check it out yourself for more or if you have any questions comment below.
Chester is an old Roman town founded in AD 70, the largest in Britain. Surrounding the city is a wall 2 miles long, originally built by the Romans. The positioning of the walls surrounding the city have remained the same since 1200 AD with alterations to the walls being made throughout the decades. Along the wall is the Eastgate Clock which was built for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. The clock was formally unveiled on the Queen’s 80th birthday in 1899 and required someone to manually wind it up weekly until 1992 when it was switched to electric.
The Chester Cathedral is a must see for visitors! With a history of over 2,000 years this 32,220 sq ft building is absolutely beautiful inside and out. On a sunny day the stained glass windows light up the interior of the church. Unlike other churches we have visited so far, the Chester Cathedral allowed visitors to look at the interior carvings up close and even access rooms that are normally blocked off to the public. If you plan on visiting the cathedral, at the end of this year you will be able to access the upper levels of the church and view the city from above.
This week my littlest sister came to visit me in London and I knew just where to take her…the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the Making of Harry Potter. We loaded up her Oyster Card (used for public transit here) and booked the last available time slot for the week. Tickets are not sold at the door so make sure you book yours online in advance! At the studio, you not only get to walk through the larger sets such as the Great Hall, but also explore some of the smaller ones like Snape’s lair and Dolores Umbridge’s office. One of the highlights of the tour is finding hidden details on the sets and within the props that the camera simply never showed.
My sister (a loyal Harry Potter fan) and my husband (who works on tv and film sets) came home amazed by the work of everyone who was involved in the making of the films. The displays throughout the sets show how certain scenes were created and how long some of the makeup and props took to actually create. One fact I never would have known without the tour was that the Chamber of Secrets door was NOT a computer-generated effect. It was actually hand built by the special effects department.
There were many other “hidden secrets” between the film’s crew throughout the movie, particularly within the walls of Hogwarts Castle. There were nearly 350 portraits on the walls of the castle honouring old witches and wizards however some of the crew were also given the opportunity to be featured in some of the hand-painted portraits.
Also on set were the white-card models, created by the art department before actual construction began. This helped plan out shots and camera movements. Near the end of the tour was the scaled down model of Hogwarts that was used to take some of the beautiful aerial shots from the films. In the room they adjusted the lighting to show you how they controlled what it would look like during the day as well as the evening.
This tour is definitely an eye opener to illustrate how much work goes into a production like this. From the massive sets, to the thousands of props, the masks and animated creatures it was a fabulous look into over a decade of work on these films.