Sunday, August 28, 2011

Some Planning

I'm finishing up my syllabi today because classes start tomorrow and I'm being slow this semester.

I'm also trying to do some travel planning. So I'll ask you: if you were me, fairly near a train line in the UK, and able to travel on weekends (with money saved and budgeted for said travel), and if you'd seen lots of what's to see around London and the southern part of England, where would you go? What would you go see? Why?

Let's hear some great suggestions, please!


  1. Edinburgh!

    Bit of a long haul, but such a beautiful city.

    Also, because I'm watching "Doc Martin" these days, I'd check out the Cornish coast.

  2. York. Not such a long haul, lovely old city, with most of the medieval city walls intact. Fabulous cathedral.

    Exeter (see Dr S's pictures at My Cabinet of Distractions). On an estuary, wonderful water views, another good cathedral.

    Brighton or similar seaside attraction: they can be garish and kitschy but surprisingly fun. It tends to be British tourists who go there, not so much Americans, so it's a good way to see how Brits enjoy a day out.

    And Edinburgh is fantastically beautiful.

  3. Ditto York. Also, Leeds (Royal Armory is amazing -- and armor bores me).

    Explore the dales if you can get a car. It's a view of life that you won't get in the cities. Go see Skipton, where Lady Anne Clifford held off the New Model Army!

  4. Edinburgh, most definitely. The Brits tend to see that as a long trip, but it's what? 4 hours by train? Totally weekend material.

    The Downs, too. I do love those ocean views. I found wonderful cheese scones in York twenty years ago, and those still set the standard of scone-dom for me. Bath is worth a look.

  5. I cannot stress enough how AMAZING cornwall is. You can get to St. Ives by train, and other parts pretty easily. I'd even recommend the Bankside B&B in St. Austell, which you can get to by train. Renting a car would be useful, but you could manage without. Cornwall's AMAZING. By far, my favorite part of England.

    Edinburgh's also fantastic. And Norwich isn't bad either.

  6. Ditto Cornwall and York! Durham Cathedral is pretty amazing, too, and Whitby nicely haunting (at least if you go there at dusk in December, as I did...)

  7. Cornwall is beautiful - I have just got back from 2 weeks there. But a weekend isn't long enough. It's a 5 hour journey to Truro, about another hour on top of that to Penzance. You could get a sleeper down on the Friday night I suppose but even then without a car you are limited to key places like St Ives, Penzance, Falmouth and Truro that you can get to by bus or train. The joy of Cornwall is the landscape, particularly the deserted bits, not just its towns.

    If you do want to go somewhere in the west country then Bristol is a good metropolitan option (just under 2 hours from Paddington); or you could try Dorchester and the Dorset coast (rich in fossils and wonderful geographical features, eg Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove).

    Edinburgh is more do-able, if you left early on the Saturday you'd have a good Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning there, and the centre of town is very walk-able. The festival is just about to end so it will be quieter there and easier to get accommodation now.

    I would recommend Whitstable on the Kent coast, which is a gorgeous fishing town with a big artistic community too - quayside shellfish stalls, nice pubs and restaurants, Georgian and Victorian buildings. It's about 2 hours out of London Victoria.

    For a non-coastal town in Kent with early modern connections you could try Sevenoaks - you have both Knole (huge 16/17th century house with amazing art and furniture) and Igtham Mote (14th century moated manor house) there.

    But then I grew up in Kent, so I'm biased... ;D

  8. Well! Where to start?

    You have lots of good suggestions already. By all means, visit Cornwall; it's an absolutely gorgeous part of the country, especially in the fall. York and Durham: excellent weekend trips. Edinburgh: fantastic city, with more than you can do in a week.

    A few other suggestions that would make nice day trips:

    If you like WWII stuff, consider Bletchley Park, the center of the codebreaking effort. It's a little down at the heels, in terms of displays (not a NT property) but the educational aspect more than makes up for it.

    If you like wandering through gardens, there are so many lovely options in the southeast in connection with grand stately homes. Polesden Lacey: home to Sheridan and honeymoon location of the Queen Mother. Sissinghurst: home to Vita Sackville-West. Knole: ancestral home to Vita.

    Exeter has a stupendous cathedral and provides access to striking Exmoor.

    Wincheser, Chichester, Ely and Norwich are pleasant for a day out on your own, as is Cambridge (although much more full of people).

    Warwick has a fantastic castle, among other historical sites and sights.

    Chester is really nice; the red stone used in the buildings is striking.

    And I could go on!

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  10. I concur with a lot of these suggestions. Cornwall over a bank holiday weekend would be workable: I rode the train there during grad school and basically just wandered about a few seaside towns. York is a favourite place and very pedestrian-friendly. The same goes for Edinburgh although you should pack very good walking shoes for that city.

    I adore Gloucester but it's hard to do by train and by foot as I recall.

  11. There have already been numberous suggestions for my two favorites - Edinburgh and York. Edinburgh happens to be my favorite city in the world. Go for the weekend and enjoy just wandering up and down the Royal Mile, making sure you hit a lot of the wynds and closes. If you get to York before the end of December (I think), go to Barley Hall and check out the Hamlet to Hollywood fashion exhibit. It was amazing - particularly Mr. Darcy's outfit from Pride and Prejudice.

  12. For a weekend, look at renting one of the Landmark Trust properties from Friday to Monday. One of the flats in the Egyptian House in Penzance or Marshall Wade's House in Bath or go back to Hampton Court and stay in a flat in the Tudor Service Wing (it's a bit large but being able to walk through the courtyards by moonlight is priceless). I once stayed in a clock tower in Lympstone and simply watched the tide come in and go out along the Exe estuary (and strengthened my thigh muscles walking up and down the spiral staircase).

    Check them out:

  13. York really is fantastic, which is why everyone is mentioning it. And I'm glad a few people put in a word for Norwich, which is also a well-preserved medieval town (though less wall than York, iirc). Norwich has the benefit of having few tourists, while York is chock full of them these days (though perhaps less so as summer comes to an end).

    But you mentioned wanting to stick to the south, and no one has mentioned Salisbury yet. I think you saw Stonehenge, but did you see Salisbury? Fantastic cathedral and lovely little town, all walkable once you get off the train. And through Sept. 25, the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum has a Constable exhibit.

    Also, in nice weather, I recommend Battle Abbey and the site of the Battle of Hastings. Easy *day* trip from London, so depending on where you are, could also be a day trip.

    I think you did Canterbury already, too, right?

    There's also Hereford for the Mappa Mundi and chained library, and if you're already that way, it's just a very short train ride to Great Malden, which is a gorgeous town perched on the side of a very large hill (in Vermont they'd call it a mountain) overlooking gorgeous countryside. You can drink the spring water there and tour Malden Priory, which has fantastic late-medieval tiles. Famous people associated with Malden: Langland, C. S. Lewis, W. H. Auden, and the composer Elgar. Also, FDR convalesced there as a child (the spring water has curative powers, it's said).

    Also: Cardiff. I've only been when visiting a friend who had a car, so I can't speak to how easy it is to get around without one, but things I've seen there that are worth visiting: Cardiff Castle, National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans National History Museum (an open-air "folk" museum of houses and other buildings from around Wales and from various time periods), Llandaff Cathedral (William Morris and Dante G. Rosetti designs and art *plus* questionable-taste post-war rebuilding), and the redeveloped waterfront area (especially if you're a Dr. Who/Torchwood fan, but even if you're not). And from Cardiff, there are cool castles you can get to, and I think you may even be able to get to Caerphilly castle (in Caerphilly) by train.

    All the other suggestions are good, too!

  14. Oh, I know you've done Oxford, but Cambridge is different and worth a visit. The train's a bit outside of town, but there are lots of busses into the city center, and *that's* all very walkable.

  15. Thanks for all the great suggestions, everyone!

    I'm thinking of Edinburgh this weekend, and have some other trips in the works!

    Keep the suggestions coming, please!

  16. I'll second Cheshire, and Ludlow, and Stokesay Castle if you can get to it (I was driven). It's a 14th-c plus later additions merchant's estate, really, not super long-term defensible, but enough that raiders from Wales would probably have preferred to move on and bother someone else. Very well preserved, gives a good sense of daily life in the late medieval and early modern periods. Lovely garden. Beautiful.

  17. I second the recommendations for Salisbury and Stonehenge, and while you're there be sure to stop at Old Sarum, the original cathedral & town site. It's an English Heritage site & well worth a visit.


  18. I'll add another "me too" for Edinburgh. However, I'll also add a caveat. Whilst the Fringe is over, the International Festival only finishes this Sunday (Sept 4th). Accommodation will be *much* cheaper and have much better availability from the following weekend (Sept 9th-10th) onwards. Sensible travellers might think of trying York this weekend ;-)

  19. Yes for Edinburgh!

    Also York, a wonderful city and very easy to get to by rail.

    Have you thought of Chester? Medieval walls, shopping... and the welsh borders.

    But you perhaps want to try some smaller towns as well... Buxton in the Peak District is nice and train accessible, or what about Beverley in East Yorkshire (an hour from York), or (one of my personal favourites) Alnwick in Northumbria.

    And if you haven't done Cambridge, then that gets a big vote from me too.

    Oh, and if Edinburgh gives you a taste for Scotland, think about Stirling - only an hour further north, a nicely walkable town and the castle and the setting are really impressive.

  20. I have been to lots of cities around the Uk. You will never experience half a much as going to some of the great areas around Devon and Exmoor. I love it there its just so peaceful.