I’ve decided that it’s time to travel. I’m in a unique space in time – my kids are no longer living at home and no one is planning on making me a grandmother anytime soon. This gives me an ideal window to travel. I’ve been to all provinces and territories (except Nunavut) in Canada as well as all 50 contiguous United States and much of Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. I’ve also taken two trips to the UK. That’s it, the sum total of my adventures. Until now!
In August, I went on a wonderful 2-week holiday with my youngest, Caden. After months of planning (thanks to Erica Tu of Luxe Travel by Design) we enjoyed our time in the UK and the Baltic. There are no words, but I’ll try! There are plenty of photos, over 1,800 were taken but I’ve reduced them to the very best for these holiday posts.
I know that it is often advised to do research before a trip. On past trips that is exactly what I would do. Not this time. I highly recommend this approach as long as you have made preparations for tours with qualified guides. I wanted to be surprised and enchanted – and that is exactly what happened, regularly.
I really believe that all holidays start the minute you’ve checked-in and cleared security. Our 5-star adventure began in the Maple Leaf Lounge at Pearson:
Our poison: Sauvignon Blanc for me and a maple-syrup based cocktail for Caden. (Yes, his hair is GOLDEN. An unfortunate choice while he was visiting with family in Cape Cod a few days before we left.) The pods (below) were very cool. We left at 11:30PM and I slept the whole way to Heathrow.
I do not adjust well to time changes so we decided to stay in the UK for a few days for me to acclimatize before boarding the ship that was leaving from Southampton. I’ve been wanting to go to Glastonbury since I read The Mists of Avalon while living in Buffalo, NY in the mid-1980’s – a lifetime ago. And certainly more interest lately with my deep dive into all things woo (aka, metaphysics) over the last couple of years. The bonus is that Caden is all about Arthurian legend, specifically Merlin, so there was something for both of us. We decided to stay at The Bath Priory, and take day trips with a guide and driver before heading to Chewton Glen located a short drive away from where we boarded the ship.
We got ourselves situated at The Bath Priory after a harrowing drive from Heathrow. Torrential rains and crazy winds had the driver white-knuckling it most of the way. Following a delicious sandwich lunch (smoked salmon sandwich for me and egg salad for Caden). We headed out to check out the town armed with a map from the front desk. I did my best to check BOTH directions when crossing all streets. I find the UK a scary place to navigate as a pedestrian – I can’t imagine driving. It was a bit drizzly to start as we passed a steam fair in Royal Victoria Park. Our visit to town was pretty dry and Caden fell in love with the architecture and buttery-yellow colour of the buildings – primarily made of Bath Stone – a limestone found in a nearby quarry. We went through the park, along the breathtaking Royal Crescent, through The Circus of more gorgeous townhomes and along Gay Street to the Jane Austin Centre. Though not a long walk, I was pooped and not looking forward to walking up hill back to the hotel. Caden took pity on me and Uber came to the rescue!
Back to the Priory where we got showered and changed. Pre-dinner cocktails! A Sauvignon Blanc for me and a Gin Thyme Fizz for Caden followed by the first of many spectacular meals.
Early the next morning, Mark, our driver for the day collected us. We were off to see Avebury, the lesser-known and much larger, ancient (and true) henge, about an hour away from Bath. We were to meet a professor there who was to give us a tour. We waited 15-20 minutes and Caden and I decided to take off on our own. Wow. The henge was HUGE. Not only were the stones mammoth (for perspective, in the top photo, Caden is 6’4″) the ancient stones make up Britain’s largest stone circle at 1,088 ft. Sheep wander throughout the space and it’s quite a challenge to avoid the droppings. The site is too big to be crowded but it was busy with many people coming to picnic and some to hike. Footwear ranged from flipflops to rainboots to hiking gear. It turns out that there was a communications break-down and our professor never showed up, he was in another parking lot and there was no cellular service. Just as we were leaving there was a blue Nissan Micra with an older man driving – we followed him up the road. He pulled over and we pulled behind. It was our professor! We introduced ourselves and he gave us some reading material and he went his way and we went ours.
In the hope we can see the cathedral and Roman baths, Mark dropped us off in the middle of Bath – by the Pulteney Bridge. We walked to Bath Abbey (where the line was outrageous) and then past the Roman Baths (where the line was even longer). Caden and I decided a couple of things: next time, pre-order tickets to both and don’t arrive on a summer weekend! Bath is clearly very popular, for good reason. We took ourselves off to a pub called Bill’s and enjoyed a lovely lunch of a menu filled with comfort food – the fish pie was amazing!
Back to the hotel to nap, read and enjoy another delicious meal.
GLASTONBURY + WELLS
Honestly, I didn’t know what I expected but Glastonbury met and exceeded it! I was thrilled that Fred, our tour guide, (along with Bruce our driver) really honed in on the things we wanted to learn. You could have spend a week in Glastonbury and not get to everything. We had only the morning and WOW. In 1086, when the Domesday Book was commissioned to provide records and a census of life in England, Glastonbury Abbey was the richest monastery in the country. From that to ruin. We learned a lot of history and Caden asked a number of astute questions that added to our knowledge. Coming from a place where things rarely date prior to the 1700s, this was a real eye-opener for him. The idea that things would be left to go to ruin really resonated.
We stopped in Glastonbury proper which is a mishmash of traditional pubs and plenty of crystal and metaphysical shops. I’d say overwhelmingly full of shops. (Is it just me or is it weird to have Buddha on display with dragons, faeries and wicca?) We stopped for tea after I took a look in a shop. I’m looking for rings with gemstones that resonate with my practice and with my desire for the future. No luck.
We then went to the Tor and Challis Well. We walked through the well area – even drank some of the water! There were a number of people in quiet nooks in meditation and some chanting. Many were wearing long flowing garments which seems to be the uniform of mystics and woos. (Though I consider myself one of them, I’ve passed on the dress code and wore much preferred crop pants and sneakers.) While Caden went with Fred to climb up to the Tor (apparently it’s quite a first step which they both assured me I would have struggled mightily to overcome) I stayed to take in the energy of the well. I sat on a rock bench next to a waterfall and listened to the rush of water (I even have a 5-minute recording stored on my iPhone). Off came my socks and sneakers and I chanted a mantra of healing and self care to myself while I walked one slow rotation around the frigid pool. It was so peaceful – and cold.
We were then off to Wells Cathedral which is breathtaking.
We were simply awestruck by Wells Cathedral. The West Front facade is remarkable which caused more questions from Caden who was impressed that the cathedral was started in 1175 (completed in 1450). The Gothic architecture (a personal favourite) was stunning. We stopped for quick (and delicious) lunch at a lovely restaurant right on the green facing the Bishop’s Palace. Soon it was filled with elderly croquet players dressed in crisp white outfits.
The interior of the cathedral itself is stunning with the St. Andrew’s Arches installed in the mid-1300s to provide support for the tower. I will never be able to unsee the image of a hawk. Our timing was perfect to see the second-oldest clock in Britain work it’s magic. I love the medieval sensibilities – so honest and raw. (I learned much more about this in the Baltic. As a society I think we could learn a lot from our Medieval forebearers.) The jousting knights were fun to watch chase each other around. From there we made our way up the famous steps that lead to the stunning Chapter House. The light in both were breathtaking. I could have stayed in the Chapter House for hours.
We took a quick walk outside the cathedral to look at the Vicar’s Close which was originally constructed as residences for those who worked in the cathedral. It, like all of it, was truly lovely.
It was a long and hot day with so much seen and enjoyed. Caden and I got back to Bath (by way of the touristy Cheddar Gorge, so fun to see!) where we got cleaned up and headed out for dinner at Hudson Steakhouse, recommended to us by Fred, who has two teenage sons himself so he understood Caden’s insatiable hunger. The food at the Priory is delicious though the portions are not as generous and Caden would like. We got back and started packing as we were headed to Chewton Glen (by way of a few chosen detours) in the morning.
SALISBURY + NEW FOREST
Fred, along with a new driver, picked us up after an early breakfast and we were on our way. Years ago my dad, who is an experienced traveller, told me to go to Glastonbury rather than Stonehenge if I wanted to feel the real magical energy of the UK, so I did not have it on my list. This was both a surprise and relief to Fred who admitted that it really wasn’t worth the wait and that there was a back road that would give us enough experience that we could “check it off the bucket list”. So that’s what we did, a quick stop at Stonehenge. Check!
Up next was Salisbury which has recently been in the news, and it’s Cathedral which had a much different, though beautiful, vibe than we found at Wells. We grabbed a quick tea at the Bell Tower Restaurant before we entered. Have you ever noticed that in modern buildings we don’t look up? There is nothing to see so we’re trained to look straight ahead or down. Well, these medieval cathedrals are all about looking up. Stunning!
Two highlights for me were the font which is completely modern and installed in 2008, but still fits seamlessly in the esthetic of the cathedral (I’m sure there are many who would argue with me). The other was the open cloister which surrounds a lovely garden. The light is magnificent.
We did go to the Chapter House which houses the best preserved copy of the four remaining original Magna Carta of 1215. It is a surprisingly small and cramped document which I know is significant as the basis of our system of law though it is completely unremarkable as a relic.
From there we took a walk around town, checked out an open air market and grabbed a quick lunch. The marriage of the ancient and the modern is really remarkable throughout the town.
[Mid-day we received news that Claire drove all night from Sherbrooke, Québec and arrived safely at her new home in Halifax.]
Time to head to the New Forest, established in 1066. There are some ironic names of places in the UK but I believe this one wins the prize. I’d post photos but I didn’t take any. I’d rather have them live in my memory – the wandering near-feral cattle, hundreds of deer and so many horses. All free range over thousands of acres of purple heather. It was glorious.
By late afternoon we were being dropped off at Chewton Glen. I am toilet challenged in the UK – while I waited for the plumber, Caden took a walk to the nearby beach. Dinner was really wonderful. Caden continues to be dismayed by the portion sizes – but he is learning to drink (and enjoy) Sancerre. A truly lovely spot. We were picked up to go to the docks at Southampton right after breakfast.
Another toast to a wonderful adventure! Caden and I are already looking forward to a return.
Bath Priory is a Relais & Chateaux property that I’m sure in it’s day it was lovely but it is tired to the point of “is this clean or just old?” – there is a difference between comfortable and shabby. The grounds are stunning and location lovely; the service is great when there is someone around to serve you – it is clear their training is meticulous. All of the food (breakfast, lunch and dinner) was delicious and well presented. Even Caden noticed how “non-fancy” the dining area was and I have to agree – the rooms themselves are not as grand as the food. This is one property who is resting on it’s reputation made in the heyday of the 1980’s and 90’s. 3.5/5
Chewton Glen is another Relais & Chateaux property, an older established hotel which was converted from a private residence in 1962. Our room was spacious, facing the croquet lawn on the main floor. Though it was drizzly we were able to open the garden doors and sit on the patio to take in the whole experience. It is located a short walk to the beach. The public rooms are well appointed and comfortable with many private seating areas, reading material and gorgeous floral arrangements. The dining room was bright and airy and the food delicious though the servers were a bit stiff. This property is working hard to earn it’s luxury charges. 4.5/5
Everywhere was spectacular – and so fresh. There was not a bad meal at any spot, big or small, plain or fancy. I suppose Caden would have only asked for larger portions but for a regular human (me) everything was lovely. 4.5/5
Avebury It really was a shame there was a communication breakdown between the professor, driver and tour company. 0/5
Glastonbury/Wells Fred was lovely, incredibly knowledgeable and picked up on our interests and moulded the tours to what we wanted to see 4.5/5
Salisbury/New Forest Fred continued to be thoroughly engaging and went out of his way to make sure we saw as much as we could on our way from Bath to Chewton Glen 4.5/5