I set out to document the 8 best parts of my trip to the UK with my family last December, where I got to see a lot of cool things that I definitely couldn’t get enough of. Part I of my story is available here – #gracetravels; 8 best parts of my UK adventure (PART I) – but if you’re done with that, here comes Part II.
The village of Bilbury is a traditional, rural village in Gloucestershire, famous for its stone cottages and trout farm by the river. Everything about this place is beautiful – the buildings each have their own homely glow and the clear, shallow tributaries of the river which run through the streets with their own slow, calming current. The main attraction is Arlington Row, a picturesque line of stone cottages that are built into the side of the small hill. If you’re a huge movie buff, Arlington Row was also a filming location for Stardust and Bridget Jones’ Diary, so you can bring out your inner Claire Danes/Colin Firth as you take in the Row’s quiet charm.
The trout farm is also one of the village’s attractions, where you can walk in and see how authentic trout farming is conducted. You can eat the trout that are born and bred in the farm on site if you pay for it and are feeling hungry, but if you’re not, you can also walk around the perimeter of the farm and admire the lush greenery that surrounds it. If you look closely enough into the streams around the farm, you might actually see some escaped trout swimming to freedom, though catching them on your own is not advised, as those things are wicked fast and you will most definitely get wet. All in all, Bilbury’s unassuming but powerful old world aura drew me in the moment we stepped onto its streets.
No pronunciation lesson here – Bath is pronounced like it the word looks, in the same way as “bubble bath”, which is actually quite close to what you will find in the attractions here. Bath is so named because of the famous Roman Baths that were once operated there. The Romans who landed in the UK in their great conquest to expand their empire found the natural hot springs in the area and called them Aquae Sulis, or “the waters of Sulis”. Sulis Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategy, and she is also known as Athena in Greek mythology (if you are a Percy Jackson fan). People from all around the region came by Bath to make use of the curative properties of the hot springs, even way into the Georgian Era after the Romans left. If you’re wondering just as I did, no, you cannot bathe in the water anymore, there’s a reason why it’s green – but, at the end of the Roman Bath museum you can take a drink of the hot spring’s water, where it has been properly cleaned and 100% safe for consumption.
Apart from the Roman Baths, the Royal Crescent is another must-see in Bath. It’s a row of terraced houses laid out in the shape of a crescent moon, built in the 1700s. The buildings have had renovations done to their interiors, but the exterior stone facade and its signature ionic columns are gazetted and remain largely the same as they was 300 years ago. The place is now a residential, and as you would expect, the real estate there is priced as amazingly as it looks. If you’re a cash-strapped student like me, and you have to be content with just looking and not buying, the nearby Royal Victoria Park also has hot air balloon rides that run in summer, giving you a birds-eye-view of the Crescent for a better price. Like any high-end neighbourhood, coaches cannot access the road that runs parallel to the Crescent because of the noise, but the view from the park next door is much better for panoramic pictures.
A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and owned by the Crown, the mysterious site of Stonehenge is every bit as curious as you have read it to be. The Stonehenge site is actually quite far into some open grassland, so it takes a short 5-minute bus ride from the coach stop and museum shop before you reach the stones themselves. When we reached the site, we took a walking tour around the area and finally laid eyes on the monument itself. While archaeologists have for the most part figured out how the place was built, why it was built still remains an open question. You can wonder for yourself while looking at the stones and appreciating the way that the light from the sun leaves shadows of all angles around the site in its timeless manner.
You can’t step out and touch the stones, except during the Winter and Summer Solstice, where an exception is made and tourists are allowed to go onto the stones themselves. We missed the Winter Solstice by a day, but after seeing the throng of people who went via the local news reports, it was just as well that we went on a non-crowded day. The unobstructed view of Stonehenge from behind the rope barrier actually added to the marvel and mystique of the place and I left with a renewed interest in prehistoric monuments.
Last, but certainly not least, there is London. But first, to clear a common misconception – that bridge in the picture above is Tower Bridge, not London Bridge. London Bridge is actually on the left of Tower Bridge in this photo, and looks much less ornate but still quite impressive, as the cheery boatman who brought us up and down the River Thames for a cruise-view of the entire city told us. According to him, the reason why the nursery rhyme goes “London Bridge is falling down” is because the people thought London Bridge was so much worse-looking than its neighbour that they wanted it to go down. I can’t verify the veracity of his story, but it did make for something amusing that enlightened me on one of the great mysteries of my childhood.
There is also the Clock Tower, which houses the Great Bell that we know more affectionately as Big Ben. Pretty much every movie shot in London will make time for a sweeping camera shot to show the entirety of Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and also Westminster Abbey. Whether you see it in the day or in the night, the architecture and grandness of the buildings oozes both an imposing and impressive charm as you take in the sight of the tall off-white walls and the great clock face in the distance. To complete the experience, stick around to hear Big Ben ring on the hour, or if you are a little short on time, just wait for the chimes from the Clock Tower which ring every quarter hour.
Any Harry Potter fan will know that your trip to London is wasted without a visit to the one-and-only Platform 9 3/4. It takes a little skill to find the Platform in the crowded King’s Cross Station, but you will know it when you see it. There will be a queue of people, both young and old, probably donning the colourful scarves of the four Hogwarts houses and waiting for their turn to take a picture of the trolley sinking into the invisible barrier to the wizarding world. I joined the queue once I found it and put on my Slytherin scarf while I waited like a little kid for my turn. And no, the scarf does not fly because someone hid behind me and cast Wingardium Leviosa – a dedicated Harry Potter merchandise store staff stands there and devotedly flicks your scarf artfully in the air to give the effect.
You’re allowed to take your own picture (hence my own low-resolution version which I am posting because my dad took it) and also buy the one that is professionally taken inside the store which is located right next to the Platform, so saving money is a go at this travel stop. However, if you are a real Potterhead you will definitely find your wallet lighter after wandering into the merchandise store. You can buy everything from a life-size Hedwig to Hogwarts robes, the Marauder’s Map and the Elder Wand. A great place to stock up for the next Halloween and out-dress your friends with authentic wizarding gear.
And of course, no trip to London is complete without a visit to Hyde Park. The Winter Wonderland is pretty much everything that you imagine it to be – a veritable haven of Christmas goodies where the sound of laughter and the smell of baked goods fills the air. You will most definitely hear Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You playing somewhere in the background at any one time. If you want to experience the Park in its entirety, you will probably need a full day to go through the entire ground, with the many stores and carnival rides scattered all around. We only had about 1.5 hours, but it was enough for us to walk around the bulk of the stores and make our purchases while sipping on some warm mulled wine. The arts and crafts here make great gifts and souvenirs, and the foodstuff is probably made even more delicious because of the Christmas spirit that you can almost taste in the air. It was the perfect way for us to end our visit to the UK and leave for the airport with the happiest of memories.
And that concludes the mini-story I’ve written on my adventure to the UK:) I enjoyed every bit of this holiday and fully intend to come back, definitely for a longer time, to see more places and take more pictures. For now, I’m hitting the books, but in my continued effort to practice my descriptive writing (apart from my legal writing in school), there’ll be more to come on more than just my travels, so stay tuned!
Till next time!