A few months ago I went back to my homeland with my girlfriend and her family in tow. After exploring a wonderland and boogying down with some wenches, it was time to get some serious sightseeing done. Enter; the magical world of coach tours.
The Magical Mystery Tour
Given a brief window of time how would you prioritise your sightseeing trip to the UK? My girlfriend’s parents have a taste for history as well as an interest in those quintessential British things that are occasionally showcased on Japanese TV. So their list included things like Big Ben, Afternoon Tea, Stonehenge, Fish and Chips, The Tower of London and the Changing Of The Guard at Buckingham Palace. Luckily all of these things are in or within a reasonable distance of London.
Our greatest sight-glimpsing venture involved a full day’s bus tour. From Victoria Coach Station the double-decker luxury coach first set off for Windsor Castle. Our on-board guide was a lovely little lady whose mind seemingly brimmed to over-flowing with details and factoids to cover every inch of our day-long trek. I felt that a younger me would have become infuriated by her near-endless chatter. However, grown me was really interested in a lot of what she shared and even occasionally pressed her for further info.
The castle is one of those famous locations that I was never interested in before, this treasure trove of a structure quickly became a big highlight. Room upon room filled with shimmering armour and stunning artwork. This was the only stop we made which I felt was just a bit too short. We didn’t get around the whole place and there was definitely a lot more to see and unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside.
The audio guides we were provided were great and are generally a useful thing to have when sightseeing with foreign tourists. Devices like that were also tremendously insightful at our second destination: Stonehenge. In my 20+ years of being a human living in the UK I’d never thought much about visiting sights like Stonehenge but seeing those mammoth rocks set against a bank of dark clouds with scattered rays of golden light spurting across the skyline truly stirred my soul. The informative electronic audio guide merely spurred my awe on to greater heights.
Ales & Tales
For lunch the coach dropped us off at a quaint 14th century pub in the village of Lacock. Quaintness is a hard thing to maintain. Especially with seventy-odd blustering tourists thrusting themselves upon the place every hour or so. However this place was doing an admirable jobs of it. Along with pints of Real Ale, traditional countryside nosh such as pie, mash, sausages and crusty bread was also served. Decent British-style Ale is hard to come by in the far east so in the brief lunch window I made sure to drink my fill. The landlord was very welcoming and me being the only member of our coach party who really knew anything about ale we quickly hit it off.
One thing that really sticks in my mind about that pub is their fire-place. It contained an out-of-use rotating spit. Attached to the spit was something that resembled an oversized hamster wheel. Next to the disused wheel was pinned an article explaining how, many many years ago, the pub owners used to breed small dogs specifically to fit in this “hamster wheel” and turn the spit.
Although, writing this now … that sounds a little far-fetched … maybe it was just a hoax …
The final stop on our Magical Mystery Tour (which was not a mystery as we booked in advance) was Bath Spa. One of the things this burg is famous for is for having a well-preserved Roman Bath House. The coach pulled into the city mere moments before the Roman Baths were due to close. We rushed through the cobbled streets to make it inside just in time. Being so late in the eve, and on a week-day, there were not so many people wandering the bathing halls. The place is quite sparsely lit at night so this scarcity of visitors only served to increased the eerie atmosphere.
As well as audio guides and info-stuffed signs there were plenty of pictures and videos to bedazzle our weary eyes. This included some dramatic re-enactments of Roman behaviour being projected onto the stone walls. We also had an interesting chat with a Roman lady who was sat by a pool with a supremely old-school make-up kit. I was quite amazed at how casually she chatted whilst remaining in character the whole time!
The trip back to Londinium was long and tiring, but I think we all felt richer for this sightseeing experience and I’m sure it will last a long time in all our memory banks and Facebook photo albums.
This was merely Part 2 of a larger story. Please check out Part 1 to learn about our time with Henry VIII as well as the German/90s-rave mash-up.