We took a day tour to see Windsor Castle, Bath, and Stonehenge. They were all in the same direction.
The tour bus (or coach as the Londoners call it) started near Victoria station. We were expected to arrive there at 7:45. So paranoid were we being late that we got there at 7:00 AM. What to do?
We decided to roam around and see if anything was open. We started aimlessly in one direction and soon found ourselves in Victoria Street, lined by boutique stores. What was surprising that every shopfront was decorated with flowers, which I was told later, was to mark the Chelsea Flower festival, a big event in the London calendar. Unfortunately, the flower festival had already finished before we arrived in London, but the street decoration provided a perfect setting for photos.
Victoria Street endured extensive bombing during 1940–1941 and was again damaged in the flying bomb campaign of 1944–1945. However, it was redeveloped in 1851 to replace Westminster’s notorious slum housing acres.
We took some photos and walked back in time to board the coach. The drive to Windsor was beautiful. We had our first glimpse of the countryside, and it didn’t disappoint. Fields stretched for miles in lush green. Sky much lower than in London. Clouds scattered here and there, giving it all a magical enchanting the first-time traveler to this beautiful country.
Our coach was one of the first few to arrive at the Windsor castle. The tourists from at least two other coaches were already lining up outside the castle gates, which would not open for another half an hour.
We stood in the line while our guide filled us with the history of the castle. It was built by William the Conqueror in the 11th century simultaneously as the Tower of London. Later monarchs extended it and turned it into a luxurious palace, especially Edward III, who modeled it on Paris’s Versailles. Since the time of Henry I, the place has been used by the reigning monarch, making it the longest-occupied palace in Europe.
After an airport-like security check, we were handed an audio device each and let loose inside the castle, which is weekend home to the Queen. It had a magnificent entry hall which is regularly used to receive dignitaries. The set of rooms that followed were getting increasingly impressive with original wall paintings and tapestries.
In 1992, the castle had a huge fire, which burnt most of the rooms except the three interior rooms, which still have the original furnishing since the times of King Charles I. Thanks to the staff’s commitment, all items of historical significance were saved except three — a large wall panel, a dresser, and a painting — which were too large to be moved.
Each day at 11:00 am, the change of guards ceremony occurs at the Lower Ward of the castle near the St George’s Chapel, which we had the privilege to watch from a close distance. Having missed the change of guards at Buckingham Palace, this was a real treat.
The most impressive place in the castle is the St George’s Chapel, where at least fifteen monarchs are buried, including King Henry VIII, King George IV, Queen Elizabeth II’s mother, and her sister Margret. This is the most likely place the current queen might choose as her final resting place beside her father, mother, and sister. It is also the chapel where Prince Henry and Megan got married.
Build in the Gothic style, it is under the direct jurisdiction of the monarch and is the Chapel of the Order of the Garter.
The Order of the Garter has an interesting history as well, something I did not know of since this visit. It is the highest order of chivalry founded by King Edward III in 1348. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honors system, outranked in precedence only by the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. Appointments are made at the Sovereign’s sole discretion. Membership of the Order is limited to the Sovereign, the Prince of Wales, and no more than 24 living members or Companions.
We drove to an old town of Bath from Windsor Castle, famous for its exquisite architecture and Roman Baths.
Bath has the only natural thermal hot springs in Britain you can bathe in. When Romans found out about them, they turned the place into a spiritual and healing destination by building a colossus structure over a rectangular pool for swimming and several saunas, massage, and other therapy rooms, many of which have still survived.
The place was a delight to visit, despite many visitors because of how information was presented as small movie clips played on the walls and floor of the ruins depicting how Roman might have used the facility.
They say the whole bath was built by the stone from a single query. Maybe that is the reason or maybe good town planning, but the Bath streets have appealing symmetry about them.
Two things one must do at Bath, taste the water from the hot water spring and then have icecream to kill the taste.
We did that and left Bath around 4:00 pm for Stonehenge. It was still bright and sunny. Sun was not going to go down till ten pm Who said weather is horrible in Britain?
British are very proud of their Stonehge – more than 5,500 years-old, built by Neolithic people – it is perhaps the oldest prehistoric monument in Europe.
Each year it attracts millions of tourist. The monument itself is in the middle of pastures and about three mile walk from the visitor centre where the bus dropped us. We had just an hour to spend there so we decided to take a free bus to actual rocks. Some daring souls decided to walk.
The rocks were smaller than I thought (4 m by 2.1 m) nonetheless their alignment very impressive considering everything was done using simple tools and technologies. Although the monument is believed to be related to death somehow I believe it was a testament to shear human single mindedness.
There is a very impressive exhibition in the visitor centre next to the Stonehenge which has hundreds of archaeological objects discovered in the landscape telling the story of the people who used to live here. The centre also has replicas of Neolithic houses with thatched roofs for children to explore and live model of how stones weighting more than 25 tones were brought to the site from hundreds of miles away.
Best place to learn more about Stonehenge is this BBC documentary.
We had 35 minutes to spare so decided to walk back to the centre. It was so serene and quiet. We could hear occasional sound from a lark and in spite of the fact there were so many visitors I could still hear the silence. It was not hard to understand why people who lived here chose this place to burry their dead. On the drive back to London we saw several burial mounds.
With 360 degree view of the landscape, Stonehenge became my favorite place in Britain so far.
Have you visited any of the places in this post?
Do you have any stories to share? I would like to hear about your experiences.
Drop me a line in the comments section below.
This is article 5 of the 13 part series. If you want to read the previous article of this series, here are the links: