We had our earliest start, needing to be fed, dressed and arrived at the tour meeting point by 8am! It was a bit of a struggle and had to skip breakfast to makeup the time, luckily for us the meeting was the same place as the Harry Potter tour a few days earlier. However, ten minutes after the pickup time, and still no sign of anyone; we started to sweat a little. Thankfully for us, they were just running late to pick us up!
We were introduced to Claudia, our tour guide, who was a pro and extremely knowledgeable, friendly and caring. She said she has been in the tourism industry for years, taking groups of Brits overseas for forty days at a time, and it showed. She informed us that our tour was cancelled and they tried to get ahold of us but couldn’t. It didn’t have enough people on it, so they combined our Stonehenge and Bath tour with a Stonehenge, Windsor Castle and Bath tour, a free thirty pound upgrade per person!
So after a quick pit stop at a bus interchange system to get some hash browns for brekky, we were off to Windsor Castle. On the way we got some great factoids from Claudia about the place. For instance how it is the largest and oldest ‘continuous inhabited’ castle for 900 years. Or a story about how a drunk man broke into Buckingham palace, twice! And even walked into the queens bedroom.
Before long we were already at the castle as we continued to find out more about the history of the place and Britain. I knew lots of Scotland’s history pre-1700, before the formation of Great Britain, but not much after that. It was interesting to see what Scotland had continued to achieve the last 300 years as part of Britain. We spent most of our time in the State Apartments, where you aren’t allowed to take any photos.
I will have to rely on describing it instead. I want you to picture the most opulent room, full of ancient battle armour, paintings, rugs, tapestry, marble fireplaces, muskets, cannons, swords, expensive China, busts and more. Once you have that in your mind double it, then double it again. What makes it even more interesting is that it is still an actively used building, for example head of state meetings and ceremonies. The queen still lives the on weekends, and as she ages is planning to stay there more. You can tell if she is currently there by what flag they are flying, if it is the Union Jack she is not, if it is the Royal Standard she is.
Interesting, a large portion of the building was actually burnt down in the late 90’s, due to a construction light being placed too close to a tapestry. The fire raged and destroyed so much, through heat and smoke, and the firefighters had to use so much water to put it out causing huge amounts of water damage. The repairs cost a fortune, the poor tax payers footing 30% of the bill. To help pay for the rest, they opened Buckingham Palace to the public for the first time, but only when the Queen isn’t there and in the summertime.
The next place we explored was the St Georges Chapel. It was like any super old church that you can imagine, but full of dead people in coffins and crypts. It has the Queen Mother, King Henry the VIII and one of his wives, Jane Seymour. It was a cool experience and a nice introduction to recent-ish history. We were then heading to a place of pre-history, five thousands year old Stonehenge.
Since as far back as I can remember I have always been obsessed with the historic monument. Having watched documentaries about how they could have built it without any modern machinery, what it could have been used for and how it survived all this time; I was sufficiently pumped to see it in person. This could be the one event that I was looking forward to the most, it did not disappoint. We arrived at an alien looking building about two kilometres from the rocks as a visitor centre/museum. We later found out that it was built by Australian architects as an Eco friendly building that blends into the countryside. It was weird but did what it said on the box.
Back to the more important part, the monument itself. A short two minute commute bus from the visitor centre to the circle (to help preserve it) and we were finally there. It’s so hard to describe the feeling of being there, the landscape is eerie and mystical, flat green land with ancient burial mounds littering the ground. There are sheep and creepy scary looking ravens all over the place that add to the ambience. And the monument itself, just wow. Words will just cheapen it, it’s something you need to experience it so I will just leave the pictures below to tell the story.
The visitor centre was really interesting, besides the standard gift shop and cafeteria it had a museum and outdoor recreation of ancient Pict settlement. When you walked in you are immersed in a 360 degree projection of Stonehenge standing in the centre. It shows the various stages of construction, different seasons and times of day. Very cool. The next section had various artefacts collected from over the area, recreated life-size models of the people who lived there, timelines of all major monuments (The Colosseum, Great Wall, pyramids etc) and so much more. Unfortunately we ran out of time to explore fully what was there to see as we had to head off to Bath.
I was not very excited about the final destination, having been to Rome I thought it would be a miniature version of that. I couldn’t have been so wrong. Originally it was a temple built by ancient Druids, believing that the one million litres of boiling water, enriched with natural minerals, that erupts to the surface each day had healing properties. When the Romans were conquering England, they came across the temple and enjoyed the benefits of the natural spring. Liking it so much they enhanced the temple by building their own baths around it.
The bath is the best one outside of Rome, and it is what we walked around and explored. It reminded me a lot of walking through the Colosseum but for some reason it seemed more intimate and authentic, maybe the ruins were better preserved or maybe there weren’t the giant hordes of tourists reaping through. When the royalty discovered the springs in the last 500 years, they too fell in love with it and started visiting it frequently. If the royals do it, then all the social elites desire to do it, this meant building a city to support this. They sent their best architects from London to design the city from the ground up as an upperclass society.
They mixed the standard Gregorian architecture with some Gothic architecture borrowed from Paris, with wide sidewalks to accommodate the ridiculous oversized fashion of the time. What was amazing is that it all looks exactly the same today as it did when it was built. It was like stepping into a time machine and then being able to explore an entire city on foot.
In the baths they had artefacts retrieved from the pluming, floors and tubes of the bath; all of which were very intriguing. What was amazing for me is that people use to write their grievances down and throw them into the water to go to the Gods. These were called curses and you can still see the ones etched in metal today. One was written in ancient Gaelic and is the only record of the language to this day, and still has not been translated. We drank some of the water (filtered not directly from the ancient ruin) and it tasted intense and not like water today, but felt healthy though it could all have been in my head.
We only had five minutes to grab some dinner so we thought we would take the opportunity to try out Burger King. The only thing that wasn’t full of gluten was the chicken strips but they had sold out of that. So instead T-Rex had some chips whilst I had a burger. It wasn’t very nice, took a long time and was quite expensive. Strangely we were given a free cheeseburger, but we couldn’t understand why. We finally boarded the bus after an exhausting but amazing day, and started the long journey home. We were actually so far west we were almost at the border of Wales! Coming into London we quickly navigated ourself to the nearest tube station and were quickly back to our home in Trafalgar Square for a very sold night sleep.