April 29, 2011

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath

London, May 2010 - We were in London, spending a couple of extra days before the start of our Contrasts of Europe train tour with Trafalgar Tours. Today we were taking a full day Evan Evans tour to three of the country's most popular sights: Windsor Castle, Stonehenge and Bath.

A shuttle bus transferred us from our hotel to Victoria Station, where we boarded our tour bus and met our guide for the day, who was both knowledgeable and entertaining.




Windsor Royal Shopping


Upon our arrival in Windsor, we walked past the shops and eateries of Windsor Royal Shopping as we made our way to the town's High Street and our first glimpse of the castle.


Windsor's High Street

Round Tower, Windsor Castle

The sun had come out, bringing warmth to the hundreds of tourists lining up to enter Windsor Castle. The Union Jack flag was flying atop the Round Tower, a sign that the Queen was not in residence that day.

We toured the State Apartments, Queen Ann's Dollhouse, and St. George's Chapel (where the wedding service was held for Prince Charles and Camilla) before staking out a spot for the 11 o'clock Changing of the Guards.



St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle

After exiting the castle we went in search of lunch (a delicious baguette with brie, tomato and fresh basil purchased from a sandwich shop) to be eaten on the bus enroute to Bath.

While the rolling English countryside sped by our window, the fields planted with rapeseed brought to mind Sting's ode to barley in his song Fields of Gold.



Field of Rapeseed

Driving past the quaint thatched cottages of the Cotswalds we soon arrived in the city of Bath. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was settled by the Romans in the first century, and enjoyed a revival in the the Georgian period as a spa town for fashionable society.

Many of the old city streets were narrow, and tour buses jostled for space as we slowed to admire the golden limestone buildings and Georgian architecture.




The Circus, Bath

Next we toured the ancient Roman Baths, which gave the city its name.


The Roman Baths, Bath

I had hoped to stop for tea in the Pump Room (of Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey and Persuasion fame), but there was a long queue and I didn't want to risk being late boarding our bus.  Nor was I brave enough to sample the hot spa water available from the salon's fountain.

Instead we headed for the Avon River to see the picturesque Pulteney Bridge.



Pulteney Bridge on the Avon River, Bath

Soon we boarded the bus for the final stop on our tour, Stonehenge. The purpose of this prehistoric circle of stones is still not known, but theories range from an observatory for marking astronomical events, to a temple of pagan worship and human sacrifice.

At first the stones appeared smaller than I expected in the vast expanse of the Salisbury Plain, and the brooding clouds added to the mysterious atmosphere. It truly is an impressive sight.



Stonehenge

The rain started to fall quite heavily during our return drive to London. And a large demonstration converging on Parliament Square prevented our driver from reaching our hotel, so we opted to go to Victoria Station instead and find a fish and chip shop for dinner.

This was one of my favourite meals of the trip - Seafresh Restaurant and Takeaway, at 80-81 Wilton Road. We each ordered the daily special, haddock and chips for £13.50. The food was delicious and plentiful - we even got an extra piece of fish, as "the size was not up to their usual standard". I plan to return to Seafresh the next time I'm in London.


After dinner we took a cab back to our hotel through the glistening, rainy streets of London and capped off a great day with a cold Tanqueray gin and tonic. On the agenda for the next day: Champagne Afternoon Tea at the Ritz and a visit to Kensington Palace.


Next:  Tea at the Ritz


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