Our Long Weekend in the South of England
For those of you that are new, travel is such a massive part of my life and also a massive part of me as person. It's one of those things that I never fathomed could be taken away. We have now cancelled all of our upcoming trips and would highly suggest that you do the same. The quicker that we all stay home, the more likely we will be able to get out there and travel again. I am hoping this post is a reminder of all of the beauty out there and how much of the world there is to see. This is a chance for you to get to see snippets of Bath, Bristol, and the Cotswolds and maybe even a chance for you to put these amazing places on your bucket list. Let's use this opportunity to travel the world through each other's experiences. Sending love and health to all that read this.
*Just as a disclaimer, Jonathan and I visited these places when the only advice from the government was 'please wash your hands regularly and stay at home if you have symptoms of COVID19'. We were very careful and thoughtful the entire trip and would not have gone if we knew how intense this all was going to get. If you feel the need to write a rude comment or have just come to write about 'how selfish we were' for being out and about, I ask that you refrain. Please keep in mind this was a few weeks ago before any lockdown or even advice to stay at home was very present and that we were very careful in terms of sanitisation. Please leave this as a place of positivity.
Friday, after work, Jonathan came and picked me up and we started our journey down south. We have learned after a few trial runs that this is the best way to ensure you get the most out of a weekend away. Yes, you need to pay for an extra night in a hotel room, but you are guaranteed an early start the next morning.
We stopped at McDonalds at the services, and also stopped closer towards our destination at the fanciest services we had ever seen. Everything was this really nice white stone and it was almost like a garden centre in that all of the food was local sourced, home made, and extortionate in price. We finally got to Bath and ended up driving around in circles for ages trying to find the car park we were parking at. The entrance was very inconsipicuous and we missed it twice! We eventually got parked though and navigated our way through the bendy beautiful streets of Bath to our Premier Inn. By the time we were there, though, it was practically time for bed already! We watched a bit of TV and I purchased our tickets for the Roman Baths (pro-tip... literally always buy your tickets ahead of time. You will always save money and wait time) before going to sleep.
The next morning, we got up and ready and headed straight towards the Roman Baths. We had booked our time for quite early on, so most of Bath had not woken up yet. It's quite funny, because I had Google Maps on full-blast at this time trying to navigate the area, but it's amazing how quickly you can get used to it, because by the time we were headed back to the hotel that evening, we knew exactly where we were! Anyway, we followed the little arrow on Google Maps toward this small courtyard right outside of the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey. It was already showing the signs of being a really beautiful day and the courtyard was packed with people. You could tell this was a hotspot in Bath in terms of tourism. We had got there quicker than we thought, so we nipped into one of the handful of souvenir shops around the square to get our trusty magnet and then headed into the Roman Baths.
If you order your tickets online ahead of time, you just breeze in, show the people at the desk your reference number and then you're in. We only had to wait in line for like 30 seconds, so they definitely have the art of queuing down to a tee. You are also given a free audioguide when you are in which is amazing! Pretty sure I have never been any place before where it is free, and I have been to A LOT of tourist attractions. You can tell that they've put a lot of time and money into their audioguides, so make sure to utilise them. On pretty much every spot in the baths, there's a little sign talking about the importance of each place and then there are a selection of numbers. You can listen to the normal audioguide, then there is one for children, and finally there is a 'Bill Bryson' option where he talks about his thoughts and such which is AMAZING as someone who really enjoys Bill Bryson. He's a lot less stodgy to listen to and his segments make you think a lot more about what the people that used the baths used to be going through instead of just talking about the year that things were built, etc.
When you first go into the baths, you're on a sort of balcony across the top which allow you to look down, but also to look across at the Abbey. It's probably one of the best and most coveted views in Bath and to feel the breeze up there on a nice sunny day was just magnificent. This was not part of the actual Bath however back in the day, this was all roofed off, so the baths would have been a lot darker and certainly not as breezy!
You then go into the museum part where they have a large display of some of the items that they have excavated while finding the baths. You have the chance to go and see the Gorgon, a statue of Minerva, the alters where they used to make their sacrifices, and then of course the hot springs and such leading up to the large bath as pictured above. For those that do not know, this was a gathering place of worship and relaxation during the time of the Roman Empire. You can see the actual steps that were used to go up to the temple for worship and sacrifice, and you can also walk through the spa rooms where they had hot stones and massage, etc. As Bill Bryson said in one of his audioguide spots, it's an interesting dichotomy. He mentioned that only the Romans would place a space for reverence and worship next to a co-ed nude pool.
My biggest tip is to take your time walking around. They aren't necessarily cheap tickets and there is a LOT of history in the little space. Have a slow wander, sit on a stone bench next to the pool and think about what it would have been like a couple of thousands of years ago to be gathering there for a relaxing swim after worship. It's mind boggling. At the end of the tour, you have a chance to drink some water from the hot springs. It's not delicious or anything, but obviously give it a go! It's quite warm water and it tastes very metalesque. Jonathan said it just tasted like normal water to him and it begs the question... what water is he drinking on a regular basis?
* Note, the Roman Baths are obviously closed at the moment, but there website has tons of info and also a tour, so you can check it out yourself if you're curious. https://www.romanbaths.co.uk/discover
Next was to walk down to the river and to check out the Pulteney Bridge. This little bridge is a beauty and fascinating for multiple different reasons. First of all, it's just interesting to look at. Its Georgian architecture blends seamlessly with the rest of Bath and it's one of four bridges in the entire world to have shops/cafes on both sides of the bridge. It's actually really outworldly to walk across it because it just feels like you are walking down a street and not across a bridge. (We would both highly recommend the Bridge Coffee Shop on the Pulteney Bridge for a little treat if you are looking for one. We picked up a toffee flapjack and a carrot cake for dessert that night and they were absolutely lovely.) Finally, a massive reason why this bridge is well-known and something you might recognise is that it is the filming location for Javert's suicide in Les Miserables. It's a dark reason for a bridge to be known, but if you recognise the water specifically, that is where you might have picked it up from.
While walking across the bridge, Jonathan saw the Bath Rugby pitch that he wanted to look at, so we scampered over there. If rugby is your sport, it's pretty much open to the public if you want to check it out. They obviously have some areas roped off, but you have have a proper nosy. We then just did a little backtrack and made our way to the Abbey. They recommend that you give a small donation to be able to see inside, especially because they are currently refurbishing at the moment and could use all the help they can get. The women we talked to that gave us our map was super super friendly and we were happy to give a bit of money in exchange for a peaceful moment in the Abbey. Like all churches in England, it was very beautiful. High arched ceiling and intricate stained glass. I wouldn't say that it's a 'must-see' on my list of church recommendations, but it's certainly lovely if you want to nosy around inside.
Next on the itinerary was lunch at the Cornish Bakery across from the Roman Baths. I went for a traditional Cornish Pasty and a rhubarb and custard pasty for dessert. My only experience with a Cornish Pasty before this was at Poundbakery where it had minced beef, carrots, and peas in it. This pasty had corned beef and onion in it which was delicious, just not what I was expecting! I saved my rhubarb one for later and we headed to the bookshops.
The first one on the list was 'Mr B's Emporium Bookshop'. I had read all about this online and was really looking forward to it. If you ever have the chance, they have something called 'Bibliotherapy' where you can sit down with one of their booksellers, tell them about all of the books that you love, and they will go and find a stack of books for you based on what you love. You then get a certain amount of credit to use on the books that they pick out for you. I would have loved to do that, but it's sold out months in advanced, so if it's something you are interested in, definitely look into it well before you go. This bookshop is really unique. You can tell that a lot of love has been put into it and that they pride themselves on their recommendations. Their 'clearance' books are put on a shelf called 'Last Chance Saloon'. They word it all cute as well so you want to just save the little books from a terrible lonely fate. It's definitely work a check out just to see how their shelves are organised and for all of the personal touches.
I went back and forth about if I wanted to go to the next one called 'Topping & Company'. It wasn't that far of a walk away and it was kind on the way to where we were going next, so we decided to nip in for a quick look and I am SO glad that we did. If I was to be a bookstore, I would like to be 'Topping and Company'. This place is like a grown-up magical bookstore. First of all, guys, they have the rolling ladders. And you can use them! It is a lifelong dream of mine to have a rolling ladder in a home library so you better believe that I took advantage of this moment. You can also tell they really take care of their books. A lot of them are wrapped in a protective layer almost like library books so that they don't get beat up while people are browsing. Also... they have so many signed first editions. Like think Erin Morgenstern, Hanya Yanagihara, Markus Zusak, etc. so, I am perusing the shelves because I really want to take a book home with me from this 7th Heaven and a bookseller comes up to me and asks if I want a hot cup of tea or coffee on the house while the bookstore owner is talking to a student about volunteering at all of their upcoming author events.... I mean... if you like a good bookstore ambience, please do yourself a favour and check out this little gem.
It was then time to check out the Royal Crescent which is pretty much just known for it's architecture as far as I know! It's funny because there were loads of tourists just trying to take pictures with these houses. It's so random, but I am a tourist in all regards, so I had to get my second in the limelight. Also, let's be honest, they are really cool houses. They are also up quite high and look down on the city, so it's a neat view point as well. It's also just a beautiful little walk up there. Check out this little hidden spot we found on our way there. And also check out my very touristy photo. We love a stereotypical moment.
At this point, we had done pretty much everything on our list of 'must-see places in Bath' so we decided to wander a bit to the left where we saw there was a decent-sized park. It was a lovely day, so it was quite busy, but we happened upon this little part of the park where there was an ode to Shakespeare and found ourselves just sitting on the bench, eating the rhubarb and custard pasty, and just talking about our day and what the future held. We had walked loads all over the city, so it was nice to have a little rest and just enjoy the fresh air. As far as parks so, I would rate this one a 6/10. Above average, but I have definitely enjoyed better parks. To be fair to it, though, I bet it's really lovely in Spring when there are actually flowers and such.
We still had a bit of time before we wanted to grab dinner and head back to Premier Inn for a nice night in with Ant & Dec, so we just nipped around to some of the little shops that we could not find elsewhere. We went to Sally Lunn's to see if we could get our hands on any of the Bath Bunns but they were sold out, so we nipped across the street to see if they had any and they were sold out as well! If Bath Bunns are on your list of things to do in Bath, we would highly recommend that you get there as early as you can. We were headed off quite early the next morning for the Cotswolds, so we didn't have a chance to try any. Definitely on our list of things to do next time. We also came across a little artisan beer store and they had Kriek! Like actual Kriek from Belgium! I picked up 2 overpriced bottles because I always look when I come across beer and I have literally never ever seen it before except in Belgium. If you don't know, I lived in Brussels for the summer and Kriek was my go-to drink when I was out on the town. With my Belgian beer, carrot cake, and book from Topping & Co, it felt like quite the productive day. Our final stop before back to the hotel? Five Guys! We got ourselves some burgers and chips and curled up with some TV for the rest of the night. Bath is a wonderful city to do in a day because we felt like we did everything that we pretty much wanted to do and we didn't feel like we had to rush to cram everything in.
The next day, we headed out on the road quite early because there was going to be a large marathon in Bath and we wanted to make sure that we could get out easily enough before all the road closures made it a bit of a mad house. We had a couple of places in the Cotswolds that we wanted to see and made a bit of a plan. First stop was Castle Combe. If you type in 'Cotswolds' on Google, a picture of Castle Combe is the first thing that pops up on your screen. Castle Combe is the epitome of adorable England and it's very close to Bath.
We followed the signs to the free parking area, which was a decent hike away from the small centre, especially when it is chucking it down. Yes, we walked a good 15 minutes in the pouring down rain so that I could get get some nice pictures of what I always had assumed England looked like based off of movies growing up in America. Because it was so early, and the weather was shocking, there was literally nobody else out, though, so I suppose that is a plus. If you were to go on a really nice day, this place would be an absolute fairytale. As it was, it was beautiful, but it seemed less beautiful when your socks are soaked through and there is water dripping off your hood into your jacket. Still got some smashing pictures, though! Also, when we were walking back to the car, I looked down and saw my name, so that's pretty cool!
We got back in the car and had a little chat about if we even wanted to go any other places because we were absolutely soaked through. We had a look and saw that there was one other place that might be quite interesting and was not far away, so off we headed to Lacock (pronounced Lay-cock). Fate was on our side, as well, and we came across a B&M Bargains on our way there. We stopped in and got some breakfast for me and an umbrella! Hopefully with the help of this shield, we couldn't get completely drenched or ill from being out in the cold & wet again. Immediately, we noticed that Lacock was a bigger than Castle Combe and had a bit more to offer. There was a lovely older gentleman that took our parking money off of us and gave us a map of the area. I would have loved to go into the Lacock Abbey because there were multiple Harry Potter scenes filmed inside, but it would have been almost £20.00 a person! That's a lot of money to see a cool hallway and classroom. Luckily, there are some Harry Potter filming locations you can see for free while wandering around the town, which i'll show in a bit! Also, random fact, but if you have ever watched Zoe or Joe Sugg on Youtube, Lacock is where they are from. In one of the little shops that we went in, you can purchase their mum's jewellery, so there's an interesting tidbit for you.
So, yes, unlike Castle Combe, there are a couple of little local shops around here that you can go into. There was a barn that had sweets and chocolates that looked delectable (if you can afford them), as well as a place my grandma would have loved with homemade bath bombs, potpourri, and little trinkets and scarves and such. There also is a lot of Harry Potter souvenirs about as you can imagine. One place in particular had HP things I had never seen before as well as a sign that said 'My True Love is Carbohydrates' which I may need for my kitchen. The only place that we actually bought anything from was the little bakery. We got some shortbread slices from them and OH MY were they incredible. Really think and buttery and melt-in-your-mouth. Would highly recommend. Also, how cute is it??
We then just wandered and Jonathan helped me hunt down the Harry Potter filming locations that were actually in town. There is Harry Potter's house from the first film and you can also find the muggle house that Horace Slughorn was staying in when Harry and Dumbledore find him in the beginning of the Half-Blood Prince. Needless to say that Jonathan and I watched the Half-Blood Prince when we checked into our hotel and found all the places that we had just seen. It was very cool! I have been so fortunate to have been to so many HP filming locations. This one is particularly cute, though, especially if you can venture out in better weather than what we had!
Harry Potter's House from 'Philosopher's Stone'.
'Horace Slughorn's House from Half-Blood Prince'
Honestly, after that I was just hungry and tired and wet. We decided to just drive to Bristol early and get checked into our hotel so we could dry off. There is literally nothing as satisfying as putting on nice dry pants and socks when you've been sitting in uncomfy wet ones for 3-4 hours. It was starting to get dark, and we didn't really want to go back out in the rain so we got some KFC from across the lot from our Premier Inn and we had a small Harry Potter marathon since Lacock had got us in the mood for some Hogwarts.
I don't have too much to write about Bristol because we didn't get to see much of it! While I wanted to see the Roman Baths and the bookstores, Jonathan wanted to go to the Bristol Aerospace Museum, so we wanted to do that and I wanted to go and see the Clifton Suspension Bridge because it seemed to be the 'symbol' of Bristol and I love a good landmark. Like I said, really touristy chick.
I know absolutely nothing about planes, but I do like a good museum, so I just followed Jonathan around Bristol Aerospace. I will say, that if you are interested in planes/flying etc. that it seemed to have a little bit of everything. Planes from the very beginning, war planes, helecopters, etc.
The two coolest parts for me as someone that doesn't know anything was one place where you see a cross-section of a plane. It's truly amazing how little space there is between you and the cargo bay (like literally just a sheet of plyboard and some cheap carpet), and even more shocking to see how little material is between you and the big bad outside air.
And then the big thing that you can do is step upon the last Concorde that flew. I literally didn't even know that this plane existed until I met Jonathan. I actually remember him telling me about this plane that could fly from London to New York in a little over 3 hours and I was like... 'oh wow, that would be cool, when are they making this?' and he was like...'no, it's already been invented but it's no longer a flight you can take'. My mind was blown! It was really cool to go onboard such a well-known and loved plane! I'll tell you what, though, if you think flying is tight now... those were some really close quarters, especially considering the price that people were paying for a ticket!
Finally, as stated before, we just drove over the Clifton Suspension Bridge and then went on a little hike to see if before we headed home. There are so many pictures of this bridge surrounded by air balloons, and that's something I would really like to see in the future. If it is something you have experienced, let me know if it is worth it! Also, can I just say though, look at how stunning the weather is! Jonathan and I had to laugh that on the day we were in a museum and then would be sitting in a car for 4 hours, we would have perfect weather!
And that's it folks! That is pretty much everything that we did on our little weekend away. I love living in this country because this is not out of the ordinary! We were able to drive to see all these historical landmarks and explore world-renowned cities in the length of time it used to take me to drive to Cedar Falls from Sioux City. It was a wonderful weekend because we did a lot and saw quite a few things (in my opinion!) but we came home feeling rejuvinated and not completely exhausted like we do sometimes on big trips. It many ways it was a last big hurrah as a few days after we got home, things started to get really serious and we had to start talking about cancelling our big trips. We are so grateful we were able to do this and hope that everyone is staying well.
At the very least, I hope this blog is a welcome distraction to read and that you got to see a bit of the wonderful country of England through our camera lens!
Thank you so much for reading as always. We will all be back to our travels once the world has healed.