ChooChooing through the UK: Day Trips from London
This is going to be a long one folks, so buckle in tight and hang on! As fabulous a city as London is, they say you’re either a “three dayer” or a “two weeker,” and without a doubt I am a “three dayer.” What does that mean exactly? Well, without a doubt there is enough to do in London that could keep one busy for weeks on end. And a first timer should no doubt plan to spend at least 3-4 days in London. Buckingham Palace, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Kensington Palace, Harrods--they are all must sees. When can you tour Buckingham Palace? Only one month out of the year--August. So if you are going to London to see it, you better plan around it. Windsor Castle, which is also a very short train ride from London, is also a first time must see. But since this is not our first time, we spent our three days in London seeing sights we didn’t see last time, getting over the jet lag and on Saturday, of course, we rested. We went to Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason, visited the Victoria and Albert Museum, toured Parliament, had high tea at the Ritz, and toured Clarence House, home of Prince Charles. Incidentally, if you stand outside his front gate you can see mummy’s house plain as day. Ideal set up if you ask me. For those of you who don’t know, I have a sixteen year old son that I am slightly attached to.
Touring Clarence House
Unfortunately, you are not allowed to take photos in Clarence House, of Clarence House, not even in the yard of Clarence House, so I don’t have anything to show you. But I will tell you that I stood in the blue room where they have taken the christening photos of the family of all of William and Kate’s children and that was really neat to be in that room. It is a lovely a room, but I daresay, it’s not as posh as you might imagine. It does have great natural light which is why I suspect it is used so much for photos. It’s a very comfortable room and while the furniture doesn’t exactly say sit down and relax, it is not at all stuffy feeling. You don’t get to see the whole house on the tour, but most of the bottom floor. There are personal photos everywhere. My favorite room was what I imagine to be where they spend the majority of their time. It was a very comfortable room with a piano, palm plants and the large lamps that the English do so well. The rug was a might worn, no doubt a priceless antique, but that is also another thing I love about the English, they don’t mind something a little tattered that looks like it’s been around a while, even in the castles and palaces of the queen herself. You can only visit Clarence House during the month of August, and as I mentioned earlier, same with Buckingham Palace, but each are certainly worth scheduling around.
High Tea at the Ritz
I’ll be the first to tell you that this girl from Texas would typically rather have a nice, big juicy steak than a few cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches, but “when in Rome,” as they say, you have to do stuff you wouldn’t ordinarily do and having afternoon tea at the Ritz is a must. We didn’t do it last time, because no joke, this little meal literally does cost as much as a good steak dinner and I just couldn’t justify it. I regretted it however, so this time, a month in advance, I booked reservations at the Ritz Palm Court. The Ritz Carlton High Tea was a memorable experience and I will never forget it. Worth every penny. Once. For the record, it is 57 pounds person, which equates to about $80 a person when all is said and done. If you want to have the champagne tea, that will costs you a few pounds more.
How to Get to Chatsworth from London
Pride and Prejudice. Mr. Darcy. Jane Austen. If you have seen the Kera Knightley movie version of the Pride and Prejudice novel, you have seen Chatsworth House, as it was filmed there. And if you are a fan of the book and the movie like I am, you will no doubt understand the desire, the need, to go there. If you google how to get from London to Chatsworth, you will pull up all kinds of chat boards that tell you various ways, via train/bus, etc. Surprisingly there aren’t any tours to Chatsworth offered leaving out of London. But never fear, I am going to make this real, real simple. Take the train to Chesterfield. At the station, get a taxi! It’s like a 20-25 minute trip and will cost you about 30 pounds. Our driver did not take a card, so make sure you have cash. And while yes, I know there and back, it is a steep price to pay, I am going to make you feel a whole lot less guilty. You are in England, you likely spent a whole lot to get there and you are likely there for a limited amount of time, make the most of your time. Don’t spend it waiting and going an extra 30 minutes to a further station so you can then catch a bus that will also tack on another hour. If you do that both ways, you will spend 3 hours riding not doing. Your time is valuable!!! Plus if you are lucky and you get a native, you will learn all kinds of things about the area as a bonus. Our taxi driver grew up in Derbyshire and in all of his 40 plus years had never taken the 2 hour train ride to London. I find this unfathomable and endearing all at the same time. Once you get there, you can tour the house at your leisure, or join up with one of the Chatsworth House tours that is offered.
Chatsworth is everything you imagine and more. It has not been stripped of all its furnishings in order to sell them off so that the owners could keep the house. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire have gone to great lengths to restore it and keep it for generations to come. At the time the Duke and Duchess inherited the property, the estate taxes were 90 percent. It took them 17 years to pay off the debt. But pay it off they did, and believe you me they are listening to ca-ching now. It is a very busy tourist attraction because it is a can’t miss one. Because of all the tourists, I am going to tell you straight up its very hard to get decent pictures. You don't have time to sit and study the light. If you are lucky and patient, you hope to get a picture without a ton of people in it. I did the best I could, and I hope you will forgive the rest. You can see in the fifth picture in the gallery there is a room with embossed leather on the walls. The sixth picture in the gallery shows blue and white porcelain and art on top of tapestries. This kind of stuff just makes me giddy. I love layers in decorating. The next photo is a gallery and the custom window treatments in here were just fabulous. I bet the passamenterie alone was hundreds of pounds per yard. The green bedrooms of course were a favorite of mine because green is a favorite color and the red dining room was so classic. Of course, the library at Chatsworth, is very famous. They don't let you go in, but they do let you stand at the door and gaze in. After, the library picture, you can see the stable, which is where they now have restaurants and shops. The last photo is a view looking out from the property. I am not exaggerating when I say it was some of the prettiest countryside I have ever seen. The little town of Baslow that is outside it’s gates is quite charming as well and everything you expect an English village to be.
How to Get to Castle Howard from London
This is much a repeat of above, except you take the train to York, about a 2 hour journey. Again, at the station--get a taxi!!! If it’s not holiday, this journey should take about 30-35 minutes. Since it was holiday while we were there, and all of the locals were headed to the coast, this journey took closer to an hour. We spent quite a bit of time in traffic. Still the fare was around 45 pounds. But again, time is money and that’s how you have to look at it in my opinion. There is a bus service from york, that I think leaves at 1 pm on certain days, so if the taxi is not in the budget you may want to check that out. At the end of this post, I will give you a breakdown of about what we spent each day, I don’t think it’s as bad as you might think. Castle Howard is one of those places that I read about on a blog of a favorite interior designer, Scot Meacham Wood, or Tartanscot. The estate originally consisted of 90,000 acres and was owned by the Earl of Carlisle. The house was started in 1699 and the first part took 15 years to complete. It is a massive house and certainly deserves the name great house. Unfortunately, at one point, one of the Earls decided to split the estate. One child got the title, one got the house. And the possessions have been parceled off as well. There is furniture in some of the rooms as you will see, but there are a lot of empty rooms as well. The view from the house is incredible which seems to be a common link for these types of estates. Note--the Castle Howard ice cream was fantastic.
After you spend some time at Castle Howard, you definitely want to spend the afternoon walking around the town of York. You will feel as if you have left present day and stepped back in time into an fantasy wonderland. I call it Disney World for adults. Have lunch at The Ivy. I don’t know who did the interior design, but it is candy for the eyes.
Day trip to Bath
The next couple of days we took a break from touring great houses, and went to Bath one day and Oxford the next. Now a popular option is to take a Stonehenge, Bath, Cotswold tour from London. Or there is a Windsor Castle, Bath, Stonehenge tour that takes you to each of the stops and back on a bus. If your guide is good, they can be really interesting. If the guide is bad though, you are stuck all day. So definitely do your research. It is quite easy to take a trip to Bath from London. And in my opinion a Bath one day trip, is all you need. Now any one who is used to train travel will already know this, but if you are an American, you might not. When you are standing there looking at the big board looking for train departures, it will not usually say the destination you want at the top, more than likely it will be a stop along the route. And sometimes, the trains will start off going somewhere and they will split along the way. I mention this, not because I think you are stupid, I mention it because it can be confusing if you are not used to train travel. It certainly was for us. I’ll give you an example. The train to Bath, ultimately went to Bristol, so that was at the top and then Bath was listed as a stop. And don’t feel bad if you have to ask someone, we did lots of times. Better to be safe than sorry. Also, flexibility is very important when traveling by train. 99 times out of a 100 they are on time, but we did show up one morning, and apparently a person had “trespassed” on the tracks so the trains were cancelled until 11 am. So it’s always good to have a plan B.
The Roman Baths are fascinating and worth seeing though, extremely crowded. I hate crowds so I zipped through in quite the hurry. The town, however, is beautiful and I have had several friends say it is one of their favorite places to visit.
Day trip to Oxford
Oxford is perhaps the easiest of all the day trips from London. It’s only an hour train ride, but I won’t spend a lot of time on it because while it was neat to see, it wasn’t my favorite. Perhaps it was because it was so crowded. If I had it to do over again, I would choose Cambridge, which they say is less crowded. But it is neat to see the original. Cambridge was started from some disgruntled people who were originally at Oxford.
Since we tired of Oxford rather quickly, we thought we’d spend the afternoon at Blenheim Palace. Here, I did not heed my own advice to get a taxi and we took a bus. “It’s only 20 minutes,” the ticket lady said, “and there will be a bus here in two minutes.” And so, I was suckered in. The bus not only showed up 15 minutes late, it took twice as long to get there as they said. That bus stopped at probably 20 different stops. Patience is not my strength. I had been to Blenheim Palace before, but since then they have opened up the private apartments, including the Duke of Marlborough’s master bedroom. Upon arriving at the gate, we were informed that the Duke was in residence so none of the upstairs or the private apartments were available for viewing. You win some, you lose some.
The Best for Last
The last stop on our grand tour was Arundel Castle. Arundel Castle is located in Sussex and since we have a new Duke and Duchess of Sussex, I suspect this area will see more tourists. While Chatsworth House was my favorite for obvious reasons, Mr. Benton’s was Arundel Castle. It was indeed a special place. It was established in 1067 by Robert Montgomery who was granted the title of Earl of Arundel by William the Conqueror and now is the home of the Duke of Norfolk--at one point the family married up. It has ties to the Howards of Castle Howard, and Mary Queen of Scots, who was held captive for a very long time at Chatsworth House. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert stayed here and her coronation throne is here. You can see her bedroom in the gallery. The movie, The Young Victoria shot scenes here, which is one of my favorite movies. It was really fascinating to be able to hear the stories of the different houses and see how they intertwined. You can go up in the castle keep, which is the tower part of the castle and what they built first for defence. Mr. Benton loved that it had long slits that you would shoot an arrow through, and the view from the keep was spectacular. The gardens, while there are grander on this earth, are some of the best I have ever seen. They were set up in such a way that allowed the visitor to make discoveries at every turn. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time we were there and we didn’t have an umbrella. Even so, I braved the weather and got soak and wet to get pictures. You are welcome. I love you that much.
The town of Arundel is a nice addition and the perfect way to end a day spent at the castle. It’s exactly what you picture in your mind when you think of ye ole’ English town. We went in several antique shops and this is where you find the good stuff. Mr. Benton found a set of antique brass weights to go with a scale he had at home that he has been looking for forever. We wanted to bring Jackson something back and while we had picked up a few little things, we found the perfect treasure in a Elizabeth 1 coin from 1562.
Now what does a trip to London cost?
I am not going to lie--a lot, but excluding the cost of business class flights to London, or economy flights for that matter, (I am not going to include that or hotel) we spent an average of about $400 a day. This is not as bad as it sounds when you figure in that we are already in the hole when comparing the pound to the dollar. I have easily spent that stateside. We did get a package deal on our flight and hotel, which Mama Hogg tells me is almost always cheaper. (She was a travel agent for 30 years). We did not eat cheap, but we didn't go high end either. I mean, the sky's the limit when it comes to food in London. We ate at a very nice steakhouse a couple of times called Hawksmoore and there was another place we loved called, Caffe Concerto, that served Italian food. I did buy a Britrail pass for us before we left and that was the way to go. Basically, it equates to you getting your return ticket to London free every day. Feel free to ask me about that if you want, or any other questions you may have.
Until next time,