Friday, June 15, 2018

England: The Lake District, Warwick Castle, and Stratford-Upon-Avon

Okay, I'll admit that many times, I get bored/overly jealous/annoyed reading about other people's fabulous trips, so if that's you, feel free to skip out on my next few posts. But I need a place to record and process things about this wonderful trip, and this little blog is my place, so just indulge me for a moment.

We returned from our nearly two-week trip to England just over a week ago, and between the jet-lag, getting hit with some annoying real-life issues (storm damage to our house while we were gone), and easing back into a summer routine with kids who are hyped up from the over stimulation of being at Grandma's magical house with cousins while we were gone (boating, fishing, horseback-riding, camping! oh my!), it's taking me longer than I'd like to sort through pictures and record things here.

But here's some backstory on the trip. When I graduated from high school, I went on this really awesome seven-country tour of Europe with a tour group. Our first stop was England, and we were scheduled to spend three days in London. I was super excited for this, especially for the part where we had tickets to see Les Miserables in the West End. Alas, our plane landed that fateful July morning in 2005 just half-an-hour after the Tube bombing, England's first major terror attack. London was essentially shut down, so we spent a rather chaotic six hours hanging out around Windsor while the tour organizers scrambled to make back-up plans and then we got whisked off to Paris. Now, being the Francophile I am, I really wasn't too upset to spend extra time in that beautiful city, but I must admit that on the night we were supposed to be watching Paris revolt on a London stage, we sat in our hotel rooms staring at our unused tickets and mourning the England experience we were denied (I recall someone in the room saying, "If only those terrorists knew how much they were ruining our lives!!!" and someone else saying, "I think that's exactly what those terrorists were trying to do, actually...").

Anyway, I've been telling people for years that I was cheated out of my England trip, and I've always wanted to get back. My husband loves to travel, and when we got married, I promised him we would be a couple who travels. We'd see the world together! Of course, we're also frugal-minded practical people, and for the first half of our marriage we had no money for travel, and for the second half of our marriage when we had money, we had kids, who tend to make travel difficult (I personally refuse to do any sort of international travel while I'm either pregnant or nursing, which has been the majority of my life for the past seven years, and I'm also not one of those personalities that enjoys travel with kids, at least not until they're old enough to pack their own suitcases). For the few big trips we have managed to take (one to India and Nepal when we graduated from BYU, and one to Peru and Bolivia a few years ago during one of those rare windows between pregnancies and nursing), my husband always picked the locations and itineraries, arguing that it was better to do cheaper countries when we were young and poor, and we could save Europe for when we were older and had more money.

Well, after our last trip, I calculated that right around our ten year anniversary would be my next break from pregnancy/nursing/school, and that would be a fantastic excuse for taking another big trip, and it really was my turn to pick a destination, and darn it, I wanted my England trip! So I told my husband that England was happening with or without him (he'd been hearing my sob story for long enough to know how much I wanted this trip), and we've been saving and planning and dreaming of this trip ever since.

And it was better than I even imagined!

I mean, England is just stunningly gorgeous!

Day 1
So, our first day of travel was a bit brutal. After a red-eye flight in, we took the Tube into London, switched over to a train up to Manchester, then another train out to the Manchester airport where we rented a car, then drove a few hours north up to what is known as the Lake District, or just the Lakes (as all the locals seemed to call it). Guys, I couldn't get my jaw off the ground, this place is so beautiful.

I mean, pretty much everywhere you look is just rolling hills of green in every shade.

For my literary folks out there, you may be familiar with the Lake District because of it's connections with the poet William Wordsworth and author/illustrator Beatrix Potter. Wordsworth was born just north of the area and for many years lived at a place called Dove Cottage in Grasmere, and is buried at the church up there. Unfortunately, we couldn't quite work a trip up to Grasmere in (doubly disappointing for the reason that I hear they have some world-famous gingerbread to offer), but obviously at some point in my life I will be returning to the region, preferably in early spring so I may see the daffodils in bloom that inspired my all-time favorite poem.

Beatrix Potter also lived in the area and used much of the money from the sale of her books to purchase and conserve the beautiful farmland in the area. It was through her efforts that the area became a National Park and remains in the beautiful condition it's currently in. (Funny anecdote: On the train up to Manchester, Nathan struck up a conversation with a boy sitting in our car, and when he mentioned that we were headed up to the Lake District, the boy asked "Oh, have you heard about Pizza Rabbit?" It took Nathan a few more minutes of conversation to figure out that no, this boy was not recommending a food place for us to try out, and that yes, he actually was familiar with Peter Rabbit, apparently just not when it was said with a heavy north-England accent. There is Peter Rabbit swag everywhere in the Lake District, you can't get away from it.)

When we were booking reservations a few months ago, we (belatedly) found out we would be up in the Lake District over a Bank Holiday weekend, which meant that many of the more popular options were already all booked up. We ended up at a pub inn a ways out in the countryside called Hare & Hounds, and it ended up being completely adorable!

We checked in and headed out to find some dinner (I'd slept through my meal on the plane, which means at this point I hadn't eaten anything substantial in about 24 hours). Our guidebook recommended a place called the Mason's Arms which turned out to be just a short walk up the road from where we were staying, so we enjoyed a stroll, exclaiming at every bend just how beautiful it was in every direction you looked.

And this was the Mason Arms:

We sat out on the patio here, and ordered some amazing food: baked camembert and lamb stew. I'll have to think about it, but this might have been my favorite meal of the whole trip. Maybe it had something to do with how hungry I was, or maybe it had to do with the fact that this was our view while we ate:

After thoroughly enjoying our meal, we walked back to our inn and crashed hard.

Day 2
In fact jet lag hit so hard that we slept through breakfast the next morning (these places have strict hours for when they serve breakfast, and if you miss it, you miss it!). So when we finally wandered out exploring at past 10 AM, we went looking for a little something to eat and a view to enjoy it with. We wound up at a park at the southern end of Lake Windermere.

We grabbed some pastries and hot chocolate at the park cafe, and enjoyed our first real glimpse of a Lake District lake (also, the boat house and cafe buildings were all made out of that stone, and looked like they'd been around for three hundred years or so).

Then we hopped back in the car and drove outside the Lake District to a little town called Kendal where the nearest branch of the church met, and made it just a few minutes late to sacrament meeting.

After church we wandered around Kendal a bit, because it really was a cute little place.

Their library was donated/paid for by Andrew Carnegie. I didn't realize Carnegie was born in Scotland, but apparently a lot of his wealth made it back over the pond this way to sponsor things like public libraries in random small towns. Who knew?

When we first started making early itinerary plans, we talked about how we wanted to handle transportation on this trip. I know it's entirely possible to do England by rail and public transportation, but I also knew that some of the places I was most keen to visit (like the Lake District and the Cotswalds), are far more accessible by car, so I floated the idea of renting a car to my husband. The thought of driving on the wrong side of the road terrified me to death, but he was actually really excited for the challenge, and so we went for it. And, while it took him a little bit to get used to driving on the left, and while those narrow country lanes gave both of us some heart-attacks, this was actually one of the best decisions we made! We got to see some of the best out-of-the way scenery because we had a car to get us there. There is one train that goes into Windermere (the biggest town off Lake Windermere), but because of that the town is overrun with tourists. We were able to stay out in the country where it was far less crowded and far more breathtaking. However, we did end up driving into Windermere and parking so that we could take a boat cruise around the lake.

It was rather hot (I think the high may have been 80 degrees) and very sunny, and we were told that this was very unusual weather for this area, so we felt fortunate that we got to see so much blue sky.

We hopped off the boat in another town called Ambleside, and went for a little walk/hike up through the town and to some waterfalls. It ended up being a beautiful little hike.

I mean, I really just can't get over how much natural beauty was in this little area. No wonder it inspired so much romantic poetry.

After an hour or so of hiking, we made it back to the boat and headed back to Windermere to look for some dinner. Like I said, this was a bank holiday weekend, and Windermere is the tourist trap town of the region, so every place was overflowing with people. We were told we'd have a forty minute wait at one pub, and since we were pretty tired at this point, we just decided to grab some fish and chips at a take-away joint and drive back to our inn. All in all, not a bad day.

Day 3

We were off bright and early Monday morning (okay, like, 9 AM, which I guess isn't that early, but considering how jet lagged we still were, it felt early) to say good-bye to the beautiful Lakes and make our way down south to Stratford-upon-Avon, about a four hour drive. But first, we made a pit stop at Warwick Castle.

Warwick Castle was Nathan's one request for this trip, and it's a place I would not necessarily have chosen to go to on my own, but it was fun. The castle is over 1,000 years old, and was originally built by William the Conqueror, but was also the home of the Earls of Warwick, who played crucial roles in the War of the Roses.

Today, it's basically a big amusement park. Or more like a permanent Renaissance festival. My husband was absolutely one of those awesome little boys who dressed up in chain mail and armor and pretended to be a knight as a kid, so this place was the stuff his little boy dreams were made of.

We did the dungeon tour (basically a medieval-version haunted house, which my husband also loved), and saw the falconry show, but unfortunately missed out on the jousting tournament (we heard it going on as were parking, but it was over by the time we got in).

The castle itself was really beautiful, and if you ever travel to England with kids, I would highly recommend this as a really fun stop (just, maybe not the dungeon tour, it really was kind of scary). But I strongly recommend NOT going on a bank holiday Monday. The place was a mad-house, and it was a total rookie mistake on our part to do something so popular on such a busy day.

Anyway, after getting our fill of castles and medieval role play, we finally made it down to Stratford-Upon-Avon!

Birthplace of the man who is making my current academic career possible: Mr. William Shakespeare himself.

We only had time to grab a bite of dinner and do just a little bit of wandering down by the river before it was time for us to hit up a Royal Shakespeare Company show.

We saw King Lear, which was really excellent. I'd never actually seen this one performed before, so to see it by the RSC was a real treat. However, it got out late and we could barely keep our eyes open as we stumbled back to our B&B.

Okay, and this post has been long enough already (although I've only covered just 3 days!), so I'll break for now. Sorry for the oversharing! Like I said earlier, feel free to skim/ignore all these travel posts, but if you've been to any of these places, let me know! I'd love to squeal and reminisce with you and hear all about the things you saw!


  1. The more details the better, in my opinion!

  2. The Lakes District and more Cotswolds! are definitely on our list for the next England trip! It was amazingly good weather too!