Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Great Day Trips From London

Maybe you’ve seen all that you wanted to see in London, or maybe you’re branching out, tramping across the country looking for the best places to retire. Either way, London is a great hub for visiting many places across England, thanks to its multiple train, bus, and plane stations.

If you love ancient sites or charming small towns, Bath is a great place for you. Here, you can find its namesake—the Roman Baths, an ancient complex consisting of multiple bathing pools and a sacred precinct dedicated to the goddess Sulis Minerva (Sulis was a Celtic god associated with Minerva by the Romans). The tour is partially narrated by Bill Bryson, and is also great if you love ancient engineering. It also features a marvelous Gothic church, Bath Abbey, as well as the bridge in Les Misérables from which Javert commits suicide.

Most castles in England fall short of the stereotypical castle, with high walls, drawbridges, and flooded moats. Caerphilly Castle, happily, does not. It’s old, dating back to 1268; it’s surrounded by a huge moat (you have to cross two bridges/platforms to get to the entrance); it’s enormous, at 30 acres (making it the second largest in the whole U.K.); and you can climb to soaring heights and get a fantastic view of the beautiful town of Caerphilly below. Also, many shows have been filmed here, including Doctor Who and Merlin.

Like Caerphilly, part of Dover Castle dates back to the 13th century, but that’s not the coolest part. If you’re a WWII buff, you need to check out the tunnels below, which have some of the coolest audio-visual tours I’ve ever seen. Here, some of the most important missions of the war were planned, including the Miracle of Dunkirk. According to one of my guides, Dover Castle was such an important site for the war effort that Hitler wanted to drink tea there first thing after he conquered the U.K.

Dover also has the famed White Cliffs of Dover, which are stunning. They were the first things returning troops saw of their home country, and from them, you can see France on a clear day. There are many trails suitable for all levels of hiker (although nothing paved), and you can watch the cruise ships sail in and out of the port.

You can’t mention daytrips from London without bringing up Stonehenge. It’s about 5100 years old, mysterious, and ticket prices include a free audio guide. Unless you’re there on a solstice, you can’t get near the stones—unfortunately, some tourists used to chip parts of them away for a souvenir—but you certainly get close enough to see it. I don’t recommend walking from the visitor’s center to the stones—it’s quite a long walk!

The solstices, meanwhile, are a very different story. You have to get special transportation there if you’re a tourist, either by renting your own car or by buying a ticket for a coach just for the event. Depending on the season and day of the week, you can be there with 30,000 or more people, including Druids and regular folk. Frankly, when I was there, it was one huge keg party (beer is sold onsite)—but it’s definitely a unique experience.

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