How many of you have had the opportunity to share a life changing trip with your parents? We are not talking as children, but rather as adults with you leading the way. Take your parents on a trip! While planning our trip to England we offered some passenger seats to Craig’s parents, Peter and Peggy, to accompany us. This was a destination they had only dreamt about.
Ok, let’s be honest, this was Peggy’s dream, but Craig is a lot like his father, in that he will do anything to put a smile on his wife’s face. There is no bigger smile than Peggy finally getting to England. For them, they did not have the comfort level they needed to do this trip on their own. We were thrilled to be their guides and give them that reassurance level and get them on that plane.
This blog post is about a day in our parental trip where we let someone else take the reins for the day. The four of us were able to sit back and take the journey stress free.
Sometimes there are a few places you want to string together in one day but managing it on your own is just a bit too much. Some of you will remember our car rental adventure in England, but we did not take the self-driving route until our days in London were over. Craig’s level of driving confidence was not at a London-paced level just yet.
Our finger typing research led us back to Viator and oohing and ahhhing over the many London day trips available. We chose the Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, Dover and Greenwich Day Trip. I know this sounds like a lot jammed into one day, but this was perfect for our needs and what we wanted to see.
The day began at Victoria Coach Station, the largest Coach Station in London. This is where most tours begin. It is important when booking tours to remember that the website you purchased from is normally a third party. Look at your ticket for the actual company running your tour. From there everything is clearly marked and finding your coach is simple. We hopped in line joining our group, excited for the day!
The bus quickly and efficiently loaded, our guide introduced himself going over what to expect for the day and we settled in ready to take in some of the English countryside. We must tell you that we have had some amazing luck with guides on our tours. Very knowledgeable and entertaining, giving snippets of history and a little gossip you will not pull from any book. Plus, Jen could listen to anyone with a British accent read a phone book and be completely enthralled.
A short distance into the bus ride we passed through a sprawling grass pasture that seemed to be oddly placed in the middle of busy city streets. We were told by our guide that we were passing over a massive burial ground from the time of the Plague. This piece of land is left open as a memorial to that dark time. Both of us being history buffs, we were both fascinated and saddened, knowing the unimaginable loss of so many lives.
First stop, Leeds Castle, nicknamed the Loveliest Castle in the World. Remember Jen was a Lady in Waiting in her former life, so this was a must see on her Tudor list. Also, Craig’s Mom, Peggy, has a serious passion for English royalty, so they are basically a match made in heaven for this trip.
The castle first came into royal hands in the 13th Century, with Edward I and quickly became his favorite residence. Not that we don’t appreciate Edward I and all of his accomplishments, but let’s talk about why Jen and Peggy were bouncing off the bus; this was one of the surviving homes of Henry VIII, which he shared with his first wife, Catherine of Aragon.
There is a reason it is called the Loveliest Castle in the World. It is not an overbearing castle, but a moderate size, with a moat surrounding the structure. The land surrounding it is meticulously cared for, with an exotic garden to walk through and even a maze to try your skills.
We were led to the entrance where a Leeds Castle expert gave a brief history on the castle and offered a small refreshment before sending us on our way to do our own exploring. Before we move forward, let’s talk about that “refreshment.” A member of the staff is expertly balancing a tray of small clear cups filled with a light brown mixture. She begins with, “I have a special treat for all of you today, Honey Mead.” She continues to state that this was the honeymoon drink of Henry VIII…..
Jen heard nothing after that, but rather elbowed her way to the front. We cannot be sure if she was hoping this would actually transport her back in time with the enthusiasm she was displaying to get her hands on a glass. She clearly learned nothing from her experience in Italy with unknown liquids and downed it without a thought.
This was supposed to be a wine made from honey. That sounds amazing. It was not amazing. Clearly Craig and Jen’s palates are full on American and not refined because Peter and Peggy enjoyed and savored the foreign drink.
Once the unrefined crowd’s throats were no longer burning, we were ready to get inside the castle. The interior of the castle was unexpected to all of us. Due to private ownership of the castle, it had undergone some remodeling. Most remodeling was done by American heiress, Lady Baillie, who took ownership of the castle from 1926 to 1974.
We anticipated seeing furnishings from medieval times, but it was more of a step back to the life of Lady Baillie rather than the first marriage of Henry VIII. The archways and doors, however, stayed true to their royal roots. We focused on the foundation and peeled away the updated additions to see the castle’s beginnings.
Upon exiting the castle, we had a few hours to continue our exploration of the grounds. Crossing the moat (we like to say moat as much as possible because moat is a fun word) we ventured up the small hill to the accommodations area. There is an array of beverage and food options available, along with restrooms.
Peter and Peggy chose to enjoy a cup of coffee and a scone while admiring the surrounding views, while Craig and Jen strolled through the garden. England has made gardening a true art form and allow the immersion to be a full experience. Lady Baillie brought in exotic flowers to create the Mediterranean Garden Terrace alongside the Princess Alexandria Gardens that follow the River Len. It is every bit as magical as it sounds.
Blossoming trees, blooms bursting with color, perfectly placed shrubbery and flowing vines wrap you up in their spell. We stopped to sit on one of the many benches to take it in. As much as we wanted to run and see every single piece of greenery it was important for us to take a moment and appreciate the beauty.
We eventually pulled ourselves away to try our hand at the Maze. This was slightly different from the corn maze we venture through every autumn at a local farm. The hedges are trimmed to perfection and designed to confuse even the most masterful of maze runners.
Craig only had to reassure Jen fifteen times that he knew exactly where he was going and that he was not lost. He may have been fibbing ten of the fifteen times. It was not until we reached the center that her rising panic subsided. In the middle you can return to the outside world by entering the Grotto. This underground sanctuary is filled with macabre forms and mythical beasts. Everything is made from shells, minerals, and wood, in fine detail. A fitting end to a challenging labyrinth.
We basked in the sunlight taking our time to walk back. Grabbing our fellow passengers, who were enjoying the grounds as much as we were, we had just enough time left to explore another area of the grounds. We passed locals enjoying a picnic with their families and various birds looking for a morsel to be dropped. Leaving, we promised ourselves a return trip to dig deeper into the nooks and crannies of this incredible piece of history.
We fed the numerous swans that wandered through the crowds like the locals they are. The numerous species of wildlife was quite unexpected, like so many things at this estate. We took a quiet moment beside the lake to watch the Black Swans and ducks co-exist in their natural habitat. Leeds Castle is a true wonder and a must see for any history, landscape, castle, wildlife, or beauty lover. We WILL be back!
The White Cliffs of Dover
Can you believe that was just the first portion of our day? On to the big part of Peter’s day, the White Cliffs of Dover. This famous landmark is so much more than a sight to look upon. It has historic ties to World War II.
Winston Churchill used existing underground tunnels from the Napoleonic Wars and expanded upon them. It was a critical point in strategic war planning, not only for the tunnels, but the location. Here lies the English Channel, a 21 mile-long body of water in between Britain and France.
We were given a half hour to look at the White Cliffs from a distance and put our feet in the Atlantic Ocean. If you squinted long enough you could almost make out France. It was just enough time to take our pictures, touch the foreign sea and not feel rushed in our experience.
Back on the bus we passed Dover Castle, as this tour did not stop here. It was an impressive landmark that is on our list for the next trip. We had about a half hour of driving until we were back to being tourists. Eating a quick lunch, provided by the tour, we talked animatedly with our cohorts about our time thus far. We pointed out the windows at eye grabbing landmarks imagining who it may belong to or what history is held within its walls.
Canterbury is a cathedral city nestled in the district of Kent. The main point of interest is the Canterbury Cathedral. This town could not be more charming. We half expected Belle to hop out of a shop with a book in her face dodging Gaston (we know that is France, but you get the idea.) Jen was literally gasping at each corner we passed and had to be dragged along with the tour that was heading to the Cathedral. Peggy and Jen were sharing looks that meant, “Let’s ditch them and go in these shops.”
The exterior of Canterbury Cathedral was under necessary upkeep renovations at this time, but we were still able to enter the interior. This infamous Cathedral is most known as a pilgrimage center due to the death of Archbishop Thomas Beckett in 1170. England takes great pride in their religious houses. They are grand in size and appear more as a museum than a place of worship.
Normally we soak in any type of historical tribute, but we had limited time. Remember our advice, plan like you are coming back. Craig and I made a quick decision that we wanted to sit with tea and scones at an outdoor table to sit back and people watch in this adorable village. We let Peter and Peggy know we planned to take the short version of the Cathedral tour and high tail it out of there. They were in agreement. Once back in the picturesque streets, they opted for an adult beverage at a local outdoor pub, while we chose a cafe neighboring a bookstore.
Pretty sure birds were singing around us carrying flowers, this is how lovely this place was. We met back up to do some window shopping and purchase some unique souvenirs. Much too soon, it was time to leave, but we came to the conclusion that we must come back to scratch below the surface of what we saw.
The final departure from the bus was Greenwich and the Cutty Sark, a restored 19th century ship. We walked past the National Maritime Museum, the Old Royal Naval College and of course the Greenwich Meridian Line. This was a very brief walk through to end our day. Thank goodness this last part was quick, as we were dragging ourselves along by pure adrenaline at this point. Our guide concluded with directions to the nearby water taxi and bid us farewell.
On a side note, Greenwich is a place that we would like to go back to. The grounds of the National Maritime Museum and Old Royal Naval College were calling out to us to come explore. Next time, Greenwich, next time.
We highly recommend the water taxi. It is a relatively cheap form of transportation while being quick and less hectic than the tube or the busy London streets. We chose a dock close to our hotel and took a short bus ride back to our lodgings with smiles you could not wipe off our faces.
We always feel lucky whenever we travel and can experience something new together. But the feeling of being able to bring Peter and Peggy (Mom and Dad) along for the ride is indescribable. Parents live their lives sacrificing for their children. They do it without complaint and would willingly do it again. To be able to give your parents the gift of a bucket list checkmark is an honor you will cherish for the rest of your life. They will add a new perspective to the adventure and can also capture some memories you may have missed, If you have the chance, take them, you will not regret it.
Have you ever traveled with your parents? Where did you go? Have you taken any day trips from London?
Thanks for reading. #NeverStopPlanning
Craig & Jen