Adventures in the English Countryside

Stonehenge! And what a perfect day to see it. #stonehenge #england #ancient

A post shared by Courtney (@shoemuse) on

Our three-year Strimel family European adventure came to a close in early June. I won’t lie. There were tears…lots of them from all of us. Taking a break from U.S. life was truly one of the best things we’ve ever done for ourselves and for the family. And because we weren’t in a huge hurry to get back, we decided to enjoy one last hurrah in the English Countryside with a big finish in London. It. Was. Spectacular.

Getting There

When we’re in London, we always rely on the Tube and trains. For travel to the west, we wanted a bit more flexibility and convenience to travel wherever and whenever we wanted. Although it can be intimidating to drive on the “wrong side” of the road, we’ve had good luck renting cars in the U.K. and opted to do that this time. Getting in and out of Heathrow’s rental car park is quite possibly the most confusing and maddening experience we’ve ever had while traveling, but once we were on the M4, all was fine.

Stonehenge

As a poor kid growing up in the Midwest, Weekly Reader and National Geographic were my only eyes on the rest of the world. Both periodicals inspired a travel bucket list that has led me on adventures to this day. One of those list sites was Stonehenge. Our first stop on the English countryside trip was the Stonehenge Visitor Center and the site itself. With May straddling the low and high season, we opted to buy our tickets online at the official English Heritage site the month before our visit. As it turned out, the day we visited was hot–like 80-degrees hot–and brilliantly sunny. There was 20-minute wait for tickets but immediate service at the pre-purchased will-call window. Score! We stopped by the on-site restaurant for lunch, then began our visit touring the Visitor Center. The center is fairly new and very informative. The interior exhibits didn’t appeal to kids, it seemed (well, except for the skeletons), but the outside features did the trick. Zoey and Harper had a great time trying to move a rock the size of those that make up Stonehenge.

There are shuttles that take you to and from the Stonehenge site but we opted to walk through the fields, about a 30-minute stroll. One of the most endearing things about the English countryside is its number of walking gates. So long as you respect the livestock and the grounds, landowners happily allow you to walk through their fields. We held hands, the girls picked wildflowers, and then the rocks came into view. For preservation reasons, visitors aren’t allow to go near the stones (and if you’ve seen Outlander, would it really be worth touching them???). You can still get close enough to shoot some fun pictures. In all, we spent about 3 hours at Stonehenge, and we all agreed it was time well spent.

Salisbury

After Stonehenge, we made a beeline through the English countryside to Salisbury to meet one of Eddie’s co-workers. He and his wife moved there last year and fell in love with the city. After a short walk through one of the city’s many ancient closes, I completely understood why. Our first stop was Salisbury Cathedral. For anyone who loves Westminster Abbey, I highly recommend this cathedral. Unbeknownst to us, the Royal Philharmonic was practicing for an evening performance inside. The orchestral music literally filled your body. It was so warm and soothing. Coupled with the architecture, it was truly one of the high points of the trip. We spent a two hours inside the cathedral, then exited to see another special exhibition: a copy of the Magna Carta.

There are three official copies that exist in the world, one of which is housed in Salisbury Cathedral. The docents weren’t especially excited to have a toddler inside the viewing area, so our friends kept her occupied while we entered. Zoey is really interested in fonts at the moment, so the writing excited here for a few minutes. Salisbury was not on my original itinerary, yet it was another one of our favorites of the trip.

Where We Stayed

With two small kids, we tend to shy away from bed & breakfasts. During our research, however, one B&B kept popping up on our list again and again so we booked it. The Cross at Croscombe offers five rooms, one of which is a family-friendly apartment set in a renovated 15th Century building with en-suite bathroom and kitchenette. It was gorgeous, it was centrally located to Bath, Salisbury, and Glastonbury, and the owner, Terri, was extremely warm and patient with my kids. We would go back in a heartbeat, and we might even just return to see Terri.

Garden seating just outside our apartment

Zoey, my true anglophile enjoyed tea and scones our first evening there, then proceeded to instruct me on true English tea-making the rest of our stay. She always held her pinkie out.

Bath UK

Let’s go back to my grad school years. One of my first graduate electives at Kansas State was Old English. Like, yes, I learned the language of Beowulf and Chaucer. It didn’t actually serve me well when I moved to a country with a Latin-based language but it was still a lot of fun. The Wife of Bath in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was actually one of my favorite characters, so Bath was a bucket list-type place to visit.

We drove to Bath from Croscombe…with a bit of effort given the one-lane roads. The Roman baths were busy but still doable until the docents began quickly ushering us out of the building. Their explanation was that the power had gone out. Given that the Manchester terrorist attack occurred the week before, it made me a bit nervous. We followed directions, missing the entire museum, and entered the bath area. As it turned out, the problem was entirely electrical but we missed so much of the site and didn’t enjoy it fully. Still, you can’t complain about these views. Plus, the trip to Bath was saved by a wonderful (and expensive) trip to A Yarn Story where I bought $120-ish of yarn to make socks that might or might not ever be finished.

Wells UK

Glastonbury

Being an Arthurian legend buff, Glastonbury was a must-see this trip. The day we traveled out, the weather was cool, windy, and just a bit misty. Generally not my favorite weather for travel, it was perfect for setting the mood for this outing. Glastonbury is an eclectic little town to say the least, and the city is well-prepared to meet the needs of visitors from all walks of life. We hopped on the Tor bus that took us from the city center up to the Tor, then walked up the steep steps to the tower itself. Long a sacred Pagan site, the tower and surrounding grounds were quite busy with men and women chanting, burning herbs, and worshipping their gods and goddesses. We spend some time viewing the amazing countryside, then climbed back down for some ice cream before re-boarding the bus.

Located in the city center, Glastonbury Abbey is Glastonbury’s true star (at least my family’s opinion). The first church on the site was built in the 7th Century. It’s rumored to hold the bodies of King Arthur and Guinevere, and you’ll probably believe the story once you see the still-standing facades. It didn’t hurt, either, that the grounds were covered in flowers–including gorgeous pink poppies–during the time we were there.

Glastonbury closed out our week in the English countryside. Originally, we considered staying in London the entire time again traveling to Stonehenge and Bath by bus on a one-day tour. I think I speak for us all when I say that we made the right decision by just driving out and seeing the area at our leisure. The fast 12-hour tour from London would’ve been exhausting. Spending a little extra time and going at our own pace really allowed us to see things on a whim and experience the countryside thoroughly.