Our Third Visit to Britain

Hello, mates! We’re back from our third visit to Britain and still recovering from jet lag, but here’s a quick post about our travels. There are a lot of pictures, so it might load slow, but we saw some amazing places! For the most part, this was a research trip for locations from my historical fiction series, The Arthurian Age. I plan on writing about those locations when I get to the parts of the book that refer to them. Today’s post is more general with some observations as an American in Britain.

Our first visit to Britain was in 2016. It focused mostly on the south-east and Wales, with a few days in London. Our next trip was in 2019, to Scotland. We visited Glasgow and Edinburgh, with no clue that we were running into one of the biggest festivals in Europe. This time around we would cover a lot of ground and there were no big festivals for us to stumble into. Instead, we had a different sort of event. But more on that later.

Our driving route around Britain with many stops for Arthurian legends and history.
Our UK 2022 Itinerary.

My wife and I took turns behind the wheel. Now, let’s talk about driving in the UK. You might think that driving on the left side of the road is the hard part. Nope. The only time we had to give it much thought was when we came out of a car park and saw headlights in our lane.

The hard part are the roads. Driving in Britain is a team sport. If you’re the driver, don’t expect to see anything more than a 20-degree arc from the front of your hood. Your passenger won’t get away with sleeping, either. They’re keeping an eye on your car’s navigation screen, because you cannot risk glancing down to see your next turn, or which round-about exit to take. And there’s a round-about every 100 yards or so.

It’s probably a good thing your passenger has to keep an eye on the navigation, because otherwise they’ll be preoccupied by the terror of feeling like the car is always on the verge of going over the edge of the road into a ditch or hedge.

British roads are notoriously narrow. It cannot be comprehended until you drive on a two way street that is so narrow the hedges brush both side mirrors. And, yes, I said the street is two-way. You have to be extremely alert to oncoming traffic. Luckily there are little spaces set into the sides of the roads periodically to allow one car the option of moving over just enough to let the oncoming vehicle by without taking off much paint.

Driving in Britain.
Yes, that is a 2-way street.

It still wouldn’t be too bad if it weren’t for the speed limits. Now, here at home I’m generally considered a lead-foot who loves winding roads and challenging conditions. If I’m driving under the posted speed-limit, it’s because there’s a storm that limits visibility to my hood ornament. Not so in Britain! Streets that would be 30 to maybe 45 miles per hour are 60 miles per hour over there! I often would look for one of those little cutouts to pull over and let a line of impatient Brits scream past.

I think, next time, I will opt for the automatic instead of standard transmission. One less thing to take up concentration, and I am pretty sure my left thigh is now larger than the right. Regardless, we survived without more than a couple close calls, and the back roads we often took were absolutely beautiful. I highly recommend driving around the UK yourself if you don’t have a pre-existing heart condition.

Regarding navigation: it’s sort of. . . tricky. I do not understand British addresses. Here in the US you have a number for the house, on a particular street, in a particular town, in a particular state, with a zip code that really is only needed for the mail. Our typical destination in Britain was something like Ballyhoo, Cheerio, Keswick, Cumbria, ZX14 5AB. Nine times out of ten, the address we were given meant nothing to the navigation computer provided by our British car rental company. We found the best bet was to enter in the postal code, get in the general area, and then poke around until we finally called the person hosting our room that night to get us the last little way.

On the subject of rooms: we stayed in some B&Bs, AirBnBs and hotels. Out of eleven places we stayed, all very nice, only two had something we take for granted in the US. I’m talking about a top sheet. I don’t know why, but apparently in the UK in the summer, you either sleep bare on top of a thick comforter, or swelter beneath it. Aside from that, the only oddity is that the sinks tend to have old fashioned faucets where you have the choice of hot water or cold water, or fill the sink with both to wash your face. Oh, and the shower at the hotel in London was very odd, with two shower heads, but 6 different handles that you had to experiment throwing different directions until you actually got warm water to come out of the top showerhead. And it was never the same combination twice.

Our first concern every morning is coffee. Love it. Especially cappuccinos with less milk and no foam (a flat-white, as they’re called), and the UK did not disappoint! We had little trouble finding an excellent café, though being early risers (we’d often get on the road by 8 am), we were surprised how many cafes didn’t open until 10, when we’d expect people to already be at work, coffee-less.

Good coffee in Britain!
Foxes Café, Carlisle, provides free character evaluations at the bottom of every cup.

The “Full English Breakfast” is a big meal: eggs, bacon, sausage, something they call black pudding, tomato, hash brown, mushrooms, and baked beans. I’m not sure how I feel about the black pudding. I can’t really describe it, aside from being black, and being sort of a sausage patty. Being an American, I think there should be a charity effort to introduce the UK to American style bacon. Theirs is sort of a cross between ours and that ham stuff the Canadians call bacon. It’s ok, but not the kind of thing that’ll make you jump out of bed. The only thing I would regularly leave behind were the beans. They just don’t seem like a breakfast thing, but apparently some folks eat them on toast. I had “porridge” a couple of times. We call it oatmeal, of course, but I’m not sure it’s the same thing. In the UK, it reminds me of paste with berries. Maybe I got it from the wrong places.

Usually we’d find a pastry at the café. The croissants were generally excellent, as were brownies. I enjoyed the pasty (Cornish hand-pie pronounced “pass-tee”), and Jenn liked the quiches. Something new I was introduced to was the Portuguese Tart. It’s a little flaky-crusted-custard-filled piece of heaven. Even Jenn liked them, who isn’t generally a fan of custardly things.

Dinners were always good. We had an English Sunday Roast one day: roast beef, parsnips, potatoes, Yorkshire Pudding (a savory, hollow roll), etc. Also, fish and chips. They were good, but being from Maine, our standards are high for seafood. Love the chips, which are thick French fries. For them, fries are the thin kind (American style, they call it). I prefer their chips. Another thing I found is “brown sauce”. The label says “HB” and has Big Ben on it. It’s sort of like ketchup, but a little more tang to it and not tomato based. I like it better than ketchup.

Adult beverages. First, Jenn loves a good cosmo. Almost impossible to find. Apparently, Brits like their booze straight. No worries, we like beer. In Maine, there are no shortages of craft beers, and Britain provides quite a variety to choose from as well. I tend to like the classic “bitters” (which really aren’t; no idea why they are called that), while Jenn likes something a little more hoppy. The one beer we found that we liked the best was Arkell’s Ales, which we discovered at this wonderfully charming inn, the Rose & Crown in Ashbury.

Rose & Crown Inn, Ashbury, Britain
The Rose & Crown Inn, Ashbury

There were so many great restaurants and pubs, it would make too long a post to list them all. We had English, Italian, Spanish, American, Indian, Asian, Lebanese and probably more. All great. Our big splurge night was one Jenn set up in London at the skyscraper called ‘The Shard’. Incredible view, and the Chinese food was amazing.

The Shard and Ting Restaurant, London
Dinner at The Shard

One thing I would really recommend is to buy the English Heritage pass. You can get a visitor pass for a set period of time, rather than the full membership. It will save you a ton of money, because so many of the places you visit are cared for by English Heritage. You can do the same for National Trust, which maintains many other locations.

Back to the trip. Our first stop was in Hitchin at the North Hertfordshire Museum to finally shake hands with its Curator and Heritage Access Officer, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews. I’ve spoken of Keith before, including this interview. I am so fortunate to have become acquainted with him, because his expertise as an archaeologist and in ‘Dark Ages’ Latin and British history has helped my writing immensely. He is so kind and generous, my stories would be far less accurate and interesting without the details and ideas he has provided. Thank you, Keith!

Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews and the North Hertfordshire Museum, Hitchin, UK
A Hero of The Arthurian Age, Keith Fitzpatrick-Matthews!

Next up was a short lunch stop in Lincoln to see the cathedral and Roman gate. Lincoln was an important Roman city, and during the Arthurian era, seems to have been a focus of battles between the Britons and Anglo-Saxons. It is almost certainly the “Linnuis” mentioned in the list of Arthur’s Twelve Battles.

Roman Gate, Lincoln, UK
Roman Gate at Lincoln

Further up the road we came to York. We stayed a couple nights here in a cute little Gypsy Wagon owned by an adorable black cat that couldn’t get enough attention.

York Minster, UK
York Minster is the largest cathedral north of the Alps.
Inside York MInster
Inside York Minster
The Shambles, York, UK
The famous ‘Shambles’. I’ve long wanted to see this medieval market area. Go early in the morning or it is packed.
Clifford's Tower, York, UK
The Norman-era Clifford’s Tower is a great visit.

The next day, we hit the road, not expecting our first visit to be so beautiful.

Rievaulx Abbey, North York Moors
Rievaulx Abbey in the North York Moors is one of the most beautiful locations of our visit.
Rievaulx Abbey, North York Moors
It was destroyed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538.
Whitby Abbey, UK
Not far off is Whitby Abbey in a striking location overlooking the sea. These ruins inspired Bram Stoker for his novel, Dracula.
Whitby Abbey, UK
Whitby is where the synod was held that determined the Anglo-Saxon church would follow Roman traditions rather than those of the Celtic churches of Britain, such as the dating of Easter (a very contentious issue of the time).
Vindolanda Roman Fort, UK
Vindolanda was a Roman army fort just south of Hadrian’s wall.

Hadrian’s Wall has been on my bucket list for a long time. It was built by the Romans to keep the unruly Britons from the area that would become Scotland from raiding into Roman territory in what would become England. It stretches across the entire width of the island, almost along the current border.

Hadrian's Wall, Hexham, UK
Hadrian's Wall and Mile Fort, Hexham, UK
A “Mile Castle” location on the wall.
Hadrian's Wall, Sycamore Gap, Hexham, UK
The famed “Sycamore Gap” on Hadrian’s Wall.
Carlisle Castle, UK
Carlisle Castle, site of the city of Cair Ligualid that Gawain visits in The Retreat to Avalon.
Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick, Cumbria, UK
Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lakes District. One of the earliest stone circles in Europe, constructed around 3200 BC.

The Lakes District in northwest England is some of the most beautiful landscape we’ve seen. We were very lucky to have two gorgeous days there. The region is normally the rainiest part of Britain.

Ashness Farm, Cumbria, UK
Ashness Farm, Cumbria, UK
Road to Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
The road to Honister Pass. Stunning.
The next Mission Impossible movie was being filmed in this area.

When planning this trip, I was told to do the Honister Pass Mine “All Day Pass”. We’d see some lovely waterfalls and hike some great locations. It turned out to be much more than we expected.

Canyoning, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Getting our wetsuits primed for canyoning.
Canyoning, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Apparently “seeing lovely waterfalls” meant up close and personal.
Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Time for our “hike” along the Via Ferrata.
Cable Bridge, Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Not as fun as it looks…
Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
This is much higher than it looks.
Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
See what I mean?
Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
My wife is a rockstar.
Stairway to Heaven, Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Finally off the cliff walls.
Via Ferrata, Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
Just keep climbing, just keep climbing…
Honister Pass, Lakes District, Cumbria, UK
We happy survivors of the day.
Maen Huail, Ruthin, Wales
We stopped in Ruthin for lunch and an up close look at an Arthurian legend. Lunch at Leonardo’s Delicatessen was fantastic and the people are wonderful. We had a blast chatting with the locals!
Chedwick Roman Villa
Chedwick Roman Villa is an interesting short stop.
Chedwick Roman Villa
Wayland's Smithy
Wayland’s Smithy is an ancient long barrow. You can go inside a small 3 room chamber.
Liddington Castle
Liddington Castle, a hillfort featured in my novel, The Strife of Camlann.
It may be the site of the Battle of Mount Badon.
Queen Elizabeth's Rainbow, Liddington Castle
We saw a rainbow while we hiked the battlefield of Badon. We later learned this was about the time that the Queen passed, and rainbows were seen across Britain.
Avebury Stone Circle
Avebury Stone Circle, older than Stonehenge and the largest megalithic stone circle in the world.
Chysauster Ancient Village, Cornwall
Chysauster Ancient Village in Cornwall was inhabited from about 100 BC until the 3rd century AD.
Merry Maids of Boleigh
Not far off are the Merry Maids of Boleigh.
St Michael's Mount, Cornwall
St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall
Pendennis Castle
Jenn was a trooper seeing all my ancient sites, so it was time to visit some of the more modern, Tudor places she likes, such as Pendennis Castle.
Pendennis Castle Hall
Lanhydrock House
And Lanhydrock Manor.
Lanhydrock House
Our Third Visit to Britain
The interior is almost exactly as the last residents left it over a century ago.
Old Harry Rocks, Dorset
Old Harry Rocks on the Dorset coast was Jenn’s favorite stop.
Old Harry Rocks, Dorset
The camera can’t come close to capturing the scene.
Dorset, UK
Our Third Visit to Britain
Corfe Castle, Dorset
Corfe Castle is stunning.
Saxon Shore Fort and Roman Walls, Chichester, UK
Our Third Visit to Britain
Chichester Roman Walls are some of the best preserved in Britain.
Winchester Great Hall and Round Table
Winchester’s “Round Table”. It’s a late medieval creation. Nothing to do with an actual King Arthur. Still pretty cool.
Butser Ancient Farm
Butser Ancient Farm is a fascinating place where they study the past by trying to recreate it.
Butser Ancient Farm
Butser Ancient Farm
Butser Ancient Farm
Our Third Visit to Britain
Butser Ancient Farm
Our Third Visit to Britain
The Eagle and Child Inn, Oxford, UK
Home of the Inklings, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.
A brief stop in Oxford. The university is beautiful, but for me, seeing the place where J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings held their meetings was magical.

Like our first trip, we turned in the car and spent our last few days walking around London. Museums, the usual sites, and a few unexpected surprises. We walked about 10 miles per day. Not a big deal for Brits, because walking seems to be their national pastime. Public trails are everywhere in and out of cities, and no matter how remote you think you are, you are probably going to come across someone out walking their dog.

London Bridge
Our Third Visit to Britain
Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament! (National Lampoon reference. 😆 )
Churchill War Rooms
Our Third Visit to Britain
The Churchill War Rooms are interesting, but way over-priced.
London, UK
Our Third Visit to Britain
On our third visit to Britain, we stumbled upon a changing of the guard.
Sutton Hoo Exhibit, British Museum
Our Third Visit to Britain
The Sutton Hoo exhibit is a must for Dark Age history buffs.
Queen Elizabeth Procession, London, UK
Our Third Visit to Britain
We were swept into a crowd of folks waiting for the Queen’s procession to pass from the palace to Westminster Abbey. We could just barely make out the procession.

There are so many more pictures I could post, and stories to tell, but this article has run long, so I’ll wrap it up. We absolutely love our visits to Britain. The land is beautiful and the people are wonderful. We hope to eventually do a house-swap and live in Britain for a year. There is far more we want to see.

I’m ending with some pictures that we took earlier in our trip. You may know that my Arthurian historical fiction series is based on the research of the eminent historian, Geoffrey Ashe. We had planned to visit Geoffrey and his lovely wife, Patricia, in Glastonbury, but Geoffrey passed away earlier this year. We visited with Pat, had great conversation, a lovely lunch, and visited the Abbey where Geoffrey spent so much time. It was a blessing, and I am forever grateful for Geoffrey’s inspiration and both of their support.

Geoffrey Ashe home, Chalice Orchard, Glastonbury, UK
Geoffrey’s wife, Pat, standing behind his chair at Chalice Orchard.
Geoffrey Ashe bench and tree, Glastonbury Abbey, UK
Geoffrey’s bench beneath a Magnolia at Glastonbury Abbey.
Geoffrey Ashe
Geoffrey Ashe, MBE FRSL

8 thoughts on “Our Third Visit to Britain”

  1. Congratulations on a wonderful trip and super photos, although you missed the best part of England by avoiding Kent! Not too sure there are roundabouts every 100 yards and of course the speed limit on country lanes is a MAXIMUM not the speed you must drive at.

    • Hi Toni! Yes, Kent and much of East Anglia and the midlands will have to be another trip. I’m glad you found the roundabouts to be my only exaggeration. 😆
      I know the speed limit is a maximum, but the drivers behind me seemed to think it was the minimum!

  2. A real, if it’s Avebury it must be Thursdaytrip. Amazing stamina you have. Thanks for this post. Great to see familiar places through other people’s eyes. Huge shame to have missed meeting you especially at Chysauster. Some other time.

  3. Sean,
    What a marvelous tale of a truly magical trip! And your photos are amazing! Thanks so much for sharing it with the rest of us!


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