England has long been one of my favorite travel destinations. I try to holiday there at least once a year since you can never do or see everything in just a week or two. It will take many trips to see and experience it all in increments of 1-2 week holidays.
My love of England started in my just before my teen years as I watched the love story of Prince Charles and then a young Diana. Like so many others, as a young woman I romanticized over the love story that was shown to us by the media. It ultimately led up to one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever seen in my lifetime. My love for England only grew as I sought out books and movies set in English history and with all of the amazing architecture. As I got older I continued to watch the life of Princess Diana as she had her own children and took on important causes and issues around the world and I remember to this day the moment I learned of her tragic death. Like many others I stopped and cried over what the world had lost when her candle went out. She was truly the people’s princess.
It took me many years after my teens to finally make my first trip to the England. When my feet finally hit British soil it was time to see everything I could. My first few trips all included trips to London, but this recent trip the closest I went to London was Heathrow Airport. The goal for this trip was to relax and explore with more places off the typical tourist path. To do that, I decided this trip would include a stay with the locals instead of a hotel. After being to England many times before, I have found that I am always drawn to Castle Combe in Whiltshire, England. It’s part of The Cotswolds region (southern part) of England and notably visited and written about for the quaint villages and sweeping countryside views.
It took a bit of searching to find the right property to stay in, but I did find a very nice one. The place I chose sits just above the village of Castle Combe and you can walk down to the village in about 10-15 minutes. I tried looking on a few sites but ultimately found my stay on VRBO.COM, they specialize in private owner accommodations that you won’t typically find on sites like Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com, etc. A friend of mine suggested using their site after she had used it herself a few times and had great stays. So I started looking and found the listing for VRBO #6034657 also known as The Keepers Lodge. They are relatively new on this site, but had references from their own website along with recommendations from the village page itself. So I sent a request to the owners to see if I could get accommodations for a week. To my relief they responded quickly to confirm the stay and I was able to book their serviced studio apartment (they also have a larger 2 bedroom cottage that sits away from the main home for families).
The nice thing about staying in a serviced apartment is that you have room to relax, unpack, cook and many times can do laundry. This studio included all of that. Although it had no dryer in the unit, we were able to use a drying rack outside on the patio and their dryer too. I prefer this type of stay over a hotel any day! The property is set on a small farm, so it was lush and green all around us. There were horses, sheep and a dog on the property and the owners were absolutely delightful. They were happy to chat with us but also left us to ourselves plenty. One thing very nice upon arriving is that they had stocked the kitchen for us with milk, yogurt, butter, jams, coffee, tea, biscuits, cereals and an assortment of breads. Most apartments you stay in do not go out of their way to make you feel welcome as our hosts did. Just down the road, a short 5 minute drive there is a post office which doubles as the local market for basic supplies, but a few minutes further there is a farmers stand and a larger market to stock up on supplies you may need whilst on holiday. Did I mention that their beautiful dog will spend time with you as well? So if you are a dog lover, you will have plenty of opportunities to sit and pet her.
Using this area as our “home base” for the week we set off to immerse ourselves in the architecture and nature in the area. We started off with a quick stop in the local village of Castle Combe, which has become a very crammed tourist stop in recent months. If you are a photographer like I am and want empty streets, my suggestion is to arrive very early in the morning or in the early evening to avoid the barrage of tourists to have your best photo opportunities. Out of all the times I have been to Castle Combe before, I have never seen this many people roaming the village at one time. Luckily for us, we were just a short walk to our host home and could leisurely return when we felt like it and enjoy a tourist free visit, well except for us lol. The pub in town, The Whitehart, makes excellent food, so please stop in and dine or grab a pint. They get their food fresh and local so later in the evening you may not be able to get your first menu choice, so be prepared with an alternate option. You will be glad you did, just don’t make the mistake my travel partner did and be a beer snob, they will have a great chuckle at your expense if you ask about the “hoppiness” of the beer on tap. There is also a lovely tea room in the village, The Old Rectory Tea Room. They don’t operate on typical hours so it is best to contact them for a reservation before you visit. One other thing to note about visiting Castle Combe, please talk to the locals in the village. We met very friendly locals who told us all kinds of interesting facts about the village. It’s a very close knit community and everyone knows everyone. So be friendly, say hello and please do not go into the homes on “The ST” (the main street), they are privately owned homes that villagers live in so look, but don’t enter unless invited in.
From one of the conversations I had with a local I learned about a village just down the road called Biddestone that she recommended was worth visiting and she suggested for us to have a to have a pint at the local White Horse pub. This village isn’t a bustling business town, it’s a quiet residential town that has lovely architecture. In the main center of the town there is a cute duck pond that sits next to a historic thatched roofed home. We chatted over a pint with a local and had a friendly conversation about of all things, politics. It was nice to have a conversation where you can talk to each other without it ending in a screaming match with anyone. We shared what our nations are going through and the concerns had a familiar sound to them. When it comes down to it, we are all concerned about jobs, healthcare, housing and how to keep politicians with their own interests out of office and get people in office who actually want to do what the people want done. So even though we have an ocean between our nations, we are very much alike. After our pints we said good day and headed off to do more exploring.
In the days that followed we visited Bath, a place we’ve visited before. It’s just hard to be that close to Bath and not stop in for a few hours. Along with the Roman buildings and historical architecture, Bath has a booming city center with shopping and restaurants. I hadn’t noticed that before on previous visits because I was more interested in seeing the Roman Bath and the Bath Abbey. This trip we allowed more meandering time in our schedule so we were able to wander more instead of being in a rush to get through the sights and on to the next tourist stop. The shopping district is a decent size with all kinds of shops from big corporations such as Apple and H&M to small locally owned shops. You can find plenty of souvenir shops closer to the Roman Bath if that’s what you are looking for, but this was just a typical shopping district surrounded by great architecture. Also, look up. One of the shopping rows had a lively and colorful display of umbrellas over head. You never know what you will see, so stop and look.
After Bath we headed over to Bradford on Avon which is just a short drive from Bath and a gorgeous drive too! There weren’t many places to stop and just look at the views along the route we took, all I wanted to do was stop and look but sadly it was not an option. Arriving into Bradford on Avon we were met with very narrow roads and a sizable amount of traffic. This quaint village has a somewhat bustling center, yet not a large city like London, no where near the size of London. It’s a main through-fare to other outlying villages and there is a train stop in the town so it is a bit busier than our “home base” was. Now you might wonder how we decided to go to this village to begin with. Well it’s quite simple, somewhere along the way I saw a photo that was taken there and it was so lovely that I never forgot it. On this trip it was one place I wanted to make sure to stop and see in person. There are parking areas in the town, most require a fee to be paid, but it’s worth it to get out and walk through the town. There’s also a small village museum just as you cross the river into town so you can learn the history. We wandered the village taking every opportunity to stop and get a photo. This is one of those villages with the cute winding roads that just draw you in to look closer. The sleepy river runs below a scenic bridge that has a backdrop of old stone buildings that makes for a great photo as well. We wandered up and down the streets and stopped into a few of the shops in the area. We even made a stop at the local barber for my partner to get cleaned up a bit and yes, it was the kind of old barbershop you’d imagine to find in a quaint village in England.
After the stop in Bradford on Avon we headed back toward our accommodations taking the off the beaten path route. Literally we were on roads only large enough for one car to barely fit on them. We were driving through the farm roads through the Combe. Many hills, valleys and lots of farm animals. Grass taller than the car we were in and as we’d approach an intersecting road we’d find old street signs you’d expect to find in the old days as we tried to navigate ourselves back to the lodge (of course we had working gps with us, but for that time we just ignored it to explore). From time to time we’d run into another car coming our way and one of us would back up to a turn out spot along the dirt road and let the other pass then go about our way. At one point we came across a herd of cattle in a pasture with a clearing across the valley below that we had to stop and just enjoy the view. For this girl who lives in the city, this was a slice of heaven! I miss living in the countryside and this journey of letting ourselves get lost so to speak, spoke deeply to my soul.
On one of our last days on holiday we took a drive north of London to visit my partners ancestral homeland in the town of Ware, England. We were able to visit the local museum and learn more about the area and talked with one of the ladies who worked there who was able to tell us much more about the town than we had learned ourselves. Unfortunately we weren’t able to visit St Mary’s abbey because as our luck would have it, there was a wedding in progress that day. So off we went to our last destination before our trip was over, Windsor Castle. Every trip I have said, one day I’d like to go there, this year I did. It’s so odd to see the castle with so much built up right next to it in the town. It is a true tourist stop. Busier than many places we’ve seen in our travels. The town of Windsor is small but very busy. It makes for a great morning or afternoon stop, but for me, I wouldn’t spend much more time there and am thankful I passed up accommodations in that location. If you want hustle and bustle with tons of tourists, this would be a good spot. It’s just not for me for anything other than a quick stop to see the castle and take a few photos.
This years holiday in England was much more relaxing than previous trips. I think planning a causal trip with no day to day plan was just what was needed this time around. I urge those of you who have never visited England, but have always wanted to, make your plans and go. It’s such a lovely place to visit, people are friendly if you are friendly with them and show genuine interest when talking to them. So get out there and see England.
You can see the full, high quality resolution photo gallery here