Touring the English countryside plus a bird’s-eye view of London

by June L. Griffin, Lewiston, ME

August 2004 was the ideal time for my week’s visit to the beautiful English countryside, includings the Cotswolds, which offer some of the loveliest scenery in the country.

Making arrangements

There are several ways to reach this region. One way is to take a train from London to Oxford and then a bus or car to someplace like Burford, a lovely small town.

On this visit to England, I arranged my air-and-land package with Collette Vacations (Pawtucket, RI; phone 800/528-9917 or visit www.collette I paid $1,995 for the package plus an additional $299 for a 3-day add-on stay in London.

We were a group of about 25 people from all over the United States, and we all arrived in London at various times and were taken by van to our hotel in Market Bosworth, where we were to spend a week at Bosworth Hall Hotel. This destination is about two hours north of London in the county of Warwickshire, not far from the famous city of Coventry.

Home base

Bosworth Hall is a magnificent Grade II-listed William and Mary mansion restored to its former glory and offering 192 guest rooms, several restaurants and a health club. The buildings are set in a beautiful expanse of landscaped gardens and parkland, and we often could see games of soccer or cricket being played on one of these green fields.

Nearby is the famous Bosworth battlefield where in 1485 the last battle of a series of civil wars took place, resulting in King Richard III’s losing his crown to Henry Tudor.

Just a stroll from our hotel was the pretty town of Market Bosworth, which in 1285 was granted a Royal Charter to hold fairs and markets. The streets around its square were lined with Georgian houses and half-timbered Tudor cottages, galleries and antique shops, with flowers everywhere.

The advantage of staying for a week at this location was that many famous and historic places were an hour or so away by car or train.

The first trip we took was by tour bus to Warwick Castle, called the finest medieval castle in England. Set on the banks of the River Avon, the castle is an awesome sight with its huge stone walls and two soaring towers built in the 1300s.

I had visited Warwick Castle before, so instead of touring the rooms of medieval armor and dark dungeons I spent time enjoying the 60 acres of grounds on a warm and sunny summer day. The landscaped grounds and gardens are the work of the famous Capability Brown, and I especially liked the terraced flowers around the glass conservatory.

The Cotswolds

Our next day trip was to tour the Cotswolds, one of the most beautiful areas of England, loved by people from all over the world and a favorite of mine.

On a previous visit I had hired a guide, Valerie Keylock, who lives in Burford. I got in touch with her by e-mail and arranged for her to pick up my travel companion and me for a day in the Cotswolds, stopping wherever we pleased on the route that leads to all the famous small villages there. This is one of the best-preserved rural areas of England, each village having its own distinct charm.

My favorite spot in the Cotswolds was the village of Burford, where we had lunch and time to walk the steep hill of the High Street that leads down to the River Windrush, crossed by an ancient bridge.

Burford is one of the most unspoiled of the Cotswold towns, and its history dates back to 1086 when it was mentioned in the “Domesday Book.” Picturesque old houses made of yellow limestone line the High Street and, with the wool trade long gone, it thrives as a popular tourist destination.

Burford House Hotel (phone +44 1993 823151 or visit is a small inn located right on the main street in a handsome timbered building. I have stayed there in the past and our lunch there was excellent, as usual. (The innkeepers, Simon and Jane Henty, were the ones who got me in touch with our guide, as she doesn’t have e-mail.)

Suggested excursions
A day-long excursion from Bosworth Hall Hotel took us to the city of Lincoln, one of the most historic cities in England, with a 2,000-year heritage and its magnificent cathedral and castle. The huge cathedral is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe, its two towers dominating the skyline for miles.

Facing Lincoln Cathedral is Lincoln Castle, where one of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta signed by King John in 1215 is displayed. Lincoln today is a modern and interesting city with shops and cafés built around the cathedral.

We also visited the Wedgewood Visitor Centre near Stoke-on-Trent. While in this area, a visit to Chatsworth House is possible. Located somewhat north of Stoke-on-Trent, this handsome ancestral home of the Dukes of Devonshire is set in a vast parkland, and the house holds a magnificent collection that has been squired by the family over the years.

On to London
I decided to end my visit with several days in the city of London trying to see as much as possible in my short stay. I was staying in Kensington at the Copthorne Tara Hotel, a good location for area museums, stores (like Harrods) and Kensington Palace.

However, the taxi ride into central London from Kensington was high priced. With the strong British pound against the U.S. dollar, the fare cost about $20 — and double that at night.

The Eye

One experience I wanted on this summer visit to London was a ride on the British Airways London Eye (, which was built as part of the city’s millennial celebration in 2000. This 450-foot-high structure is located on the shore of the River Thames at Jubilee Gardens South Bank and can be reached by various underground stops, including Charing Cross. The ride (priced at £12.50 for adults and £10 for seniors) operates daily 9:30 a.m.-9 p.m., May, June and September (9:30-10, July-August), with winter hours changeable.

The line to board the Eye was long but moving, and everyone was stopped by security, who examined bags and backpacks. When you board one of the 32 glassed capsules, which can hold as many as 25 people each, an attendant allows a set number to board — about 12 when I entered for my ride.

The 30-minute slow-moving “flight” over London’s famous skyline gives you a bird’s-eye view of the city, and on a clear day you can see for 25 miles.

You can photograph landmarks like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and the Thames as you make the circle so smoothly that there is no unpleasant feeling of motion.

This is the sixth-tallest structure in London and, like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it defines the city’s skyline.

Along the Thames

My travel companion on this visit, Sally Maguire, had as one of her priorities the boat trip to Greenwich on the Thames, which we took with Catamaran Cruisers, Ltd. (phone 0171 8393572). You sail past the Tower of London and under the Tower Bridge on the one-hour trip to Greenwich, home to Britain’s naval heritage, and you can stay an hour or two before catching a ride back to the city.

The first thing you see when you get off the boat at Greenwich Pier is the Cutty Sark. Built in 1869, this tall-masted clipper ship is the last of its the kind to survive. It is now a kind of museum of seafaring life and is open for visitors.

Greenwich has charming streets lined with shops and places to eat plus a weekend antiques market that is very popular.

Dining out

London has many restaurants to choose from, ranging from take-away sandwich eateries to elegant and expensive places famous for their food, the small restaurant at the Athenaeum Hotel on Piccadilly being one of the latter.

Another food experience in London — and not to be missed — is afternoon tea, which I enjoyed at the famous Savoy Hotel on The Strand. Reservations are needed (phone +44 20 7420 2356 or e-mail and this tea ceremony is a formal affair, served by tail-coated waiters. You are given a choice of tea and brought a triple-tiered stand with scones and jam and the unique clotted cream plus a selection of thin sandwiches and small pastries. Traditional tea starts at £24 (near $45) — an expensive treat.

The theater

London is world famous for its theater, and I wanted to visit Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, now complete, a faithful reconstruction of the open-air playhouse designed in 1599. The Globe program runs from May through September, and on my August visit I saw a performance of Shakespeare’s play “Measure for Measure.”

I toured the Globe’s exhibition devoted to the playwright and had dinner before the play at the Globe’s restaurant, with windows looking out over the River Thames.

At the theater, the audience sits in a roofed gallery or stands in the open-roofed pit, just as they would have done 400 years ago.

One of the most popular travel destinations in the world, London is an exciting city which you can visit many times and always see something new.