While still in London during last year’s les vacances de Noël, I decided to make a day trip to see some of the highlights in and around the area. I had booked a day tour beforehand that would take tourists to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and the University of Oxford, since I was interested in seeing a bit more of England than London itself. With that said, I made my reservations, and I was off!
After breakfast at the hostel, I headed out at 7h30 (dark and early!) over to the Victoria Station where I would be boarding the coach for the day trip. What surprised me was that, compared with the day tour of the Scottish Highlands that I had previously done, this tour was packed, with around forty to fifty of us (in Scotland, the tour was only nine people). Then again, day trips from London, let alone during the holiday season, seem to be a normal occurrence, so it shouldn’t have surprised me anyway.
In any case, all of us boarded the coach and at 9h00 sharp, we departed from London and onto our first destination for the day: Windsor Castle. Our tour guide was a Welsh man who was both informative and funny, cracking a few jokes here and there about British culture (especially when it came to the food policy on the bus: nothing too aromatic that could stink up the car. Best to have a sandwich or wrap, for all of that matter. “Keep it simple, keep it bland. Just like the British.” His words, not mine).
We arrived at Windsor Castle around 10h00, and our tour guide gave us time to line up to get inside of the castle. From what I learned during the ride over to the site, Windsor Castle has a long history of ties to nobility, first constructed under William the Conqueror back in the eleventh century, and now houses the British royal family. It is also the “weekend getaway” destination for Queen Elizabeth II, the Majesty herself. Definitely is a large site surrounded by fortified walls and am told that it houses tons of paintings, artifacts, and stunning elegant architecture for visitors to look at.
Personally, I did not choose to pay to go inside the Windsor Castle, even though I was interested in doing so. Unfortunately, what held me back was the fact that 1) the line to get inside was long; it was wrapping around the castle walls by the time we got there! 2) we were only given around 75 minutes to visit it which, minus the time waiting in line, it wouldn’t give much time to see everything inside since the place is enormous. 3) the admission price was £19 which during that holiday season, was extremely costly. As I’d mentioned in my London post, the currency-exchange rate was particularly bad when I traveled, so things were significantly more expensive in euros than they should’ve been. I was saving my money for the other sites we would be visiting that day, since the tour itself had already cost £41 for me. Oh, money issues…
Instead, I walked along the castle walls and explored a bit of the town with its stores, restaurants, and other touristy things to do while in the area. We ended our stay there around 12h00; I’d heard from the tourists who’d paid to go inside Windsor Castle that they’d spent an hour in queue- that’s ridiculous! They certainly didn’t spend too much time inside of the castle, and hearing that I was glad that I chose not to go. Shortly after, we left for our next destination, Stonehenge.
We didn’t stop for lunch (thankfully, I’d brought food to eat), and at 14h00, we arrived at Stonehenge. It was £14.50 to go visit it, which included the shuttle to and from the ticket office and the site itself, which was located about two kilometers away.
To this day, Stonehenge remains a mystery of those who’d built it and for what purpose. Perhaps for rituals or for group meetings- we really don’t know. All that we do know is that it was constructed sometime between 3000 BCE and 2000 BCE and is one of the several henge, i.e. rocks arranged in a circular formation on a bank, located around in the area. Another one is Avebury, situated about 32 kilometers from Stonehenge.
I will be bluntly honest and say that Stonehenge was NOT worth it, at least for the money that I paid to visit it. You aren’t even allowed inside of the circular structure, let alone close to it, since the ground there is extremely fragile (funny enough, our tour guide told us that, during the summer solstice in June, people are allowed inside, many who belong to “free societies” or “alternative cultures.” New Age hippies, you could call them. Very interesting!). We were only allowed to see Stonehenge from a distance, take a couple of photos of it, then leave. Heard a couple of people, who I could tell were just as disappointed as I was, mutter, “it’s just a pile of rocks.” Couldn’t have agreed more- perhaps I should’ve just stuck to a postcard of it back in London. At least I can say that I’ve seen it now…
We spent no more than 45 minutes at Stonehenge before leaving and taking the coach over to the University of Oxford. It is one of the oldest universities in the world, with its first teachings dating all the way back to the eleventh century. Definitely a prestigious school (and a prestigious-sounding one, to say the least!) and is known for being rivals with Cambridge.
It was already dark when we arrived at 16h30 (again, curse the winter season!) and even when we got a brief tour around part of the campus, it was just too pitch-black to take photos of the buildings. All the same, I can say that I’ve been to Oxford!
Around 18h00, we left and spent the next two hours making our way back to London, since we were at the end of our tour. We arrived back at Victoria Station towards 20h00 where I took the Tube back to my hostel, exhausted after almost twelve hours of touring.
Overall, I believe that I saw a lot, but also didn’t see a lot, from the day trip to these sites around London. Sounds paradoxical, but I suppose what made the tour underwhelming for me was the fact that we had to pay to get into almost every site we visited (and for a large price, which the tour didn’t include in the package) and also that we didn’t have much time to see things in detail. True, our tour guide had told us that this was more of a “tapas-style” tour, as a way of sampling different sites, but not really eating entire meals of them (forgive the bad metaphor on my part). Definitely right, in that respect, and I suppose now that I know where I would like to visit in more depth, should I decide to return to England someday. Windsor Castle does interest me, since before I hadn’t really heard much about it, let alone how famous it is. Guess we’ll have to see!
I’ll be scheduling my final post on my adventures in the UK and Ireland after New Years, so as to wrap up my holiday travel series from my first year as an assistante. Look forward to my last post on the last leg of my journey then, as we’ll be finishing up with trips to Canterbury, Dover, and Calais! Cheers.