A Cross-Country Holiday in England

Stonehenge is a marvel of ancient achievement and a persistent symbol of mystery. (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

WANDER LUST

England is one of the most visited countries in the world, because it has a myriad of tourist attractions that offers travelers endless possibilities of fun and adventure. Join gastroenterologist Dr. Jun Ruiz as he tours England in this sequel to the A Royal Holiday in London


England is full of exciting royal history, colorful cultural traditions, popular culture icons, and monumental relics of its past. Our recent cross-country tour to this nation was such an exceptional journey that consisted of eighteen unforgettable days. Going around England is remarkably easy, whether you choose to join a tour group or travel by public transport. England is the biggest country that comprises the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Wales was annexed to England in 1535. A unified United Kingdom of Great Britain was created with the union of England and Scotland in 1707. At its height, Great Britain was the foremost global power as more than 400 million people were under its empire, and it occupied a quarter of the world’s land area. This domination made the British Empire the largest empire in history. We can also truly recognize its legacy to the world in terms of the English language, common law legal systems, parliamentary form of government, and its multiple cultural influences

The Queen considers the Windsor Castle as her official weekend home (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
The Queen considers the Windsor Castle as her official weekend home (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

We started our journey in London, which is such a spectacular city. It has a great deal to offer with its royal attractions, historical monuments, and impressive entertainment. However, there are still a myriad of wonderful tourist attractions around England that affirms its unique heritage and located just outside London. You can visit these exciting cities by joining an organized tour or taking day tours from London. The following are the destinations that I recommend, from the Queen’s favorite weekend home, the Windsor Castle, to the prestigious University of Oxford, and to the prehistoric and enigmatic Stonehenge.

Windsor Castle

If you had not enough of a taste of royalty in London and want some more, visit the Windsor Castle. It is located 50 km west of London, and you can easily get there by train in around 30 minutes. The Winds or Castle still stands as the oldest and largest continuously inhabited castle in the world. It was built by William the Conqueror in 1078. During the more than 900 years of its existence, successive monarchs have made alterations to the castle to suit their changing royal tastes. Today, the Queen considers it as her official weekend home and is also used for royal family events, state banquets, and official visits.

The Round Tower of the Windsor Castle has an imposing height, being located on top of the hill (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz
The Round Tower of the Windsor Castle has an imposing height, being located on top of the hill (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz

St. George’s Chapel is considered to be among the most beautiful buildings in England. The inside of the chapel is breathtaking – a remarkable Gothic masterpiece. It is also called as “the shrine of British royalty,” as ten English monarchs are buried here and as well as six queens. This is where the most famous king of England was laid to rest, Henry VIII, who notoriously married six wives.

Among the prominent buildings is the Round Tower that has an imposing height and silhouette, being located on top of the hill. It contains the Royal Archives and the Photographic Collection. Visit the spectacular State Apartments, restored with the finest works of arts to appear similar to its original appearance, and Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House. Allocate 2 to 3 hours for this Windsor Castle tour. Do not fail to watch the colorful spectacle of pageantry of the Changing of the Guard inside the castle grounds.

Harry Potter movies were filmed at Alnwick Castle. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)
Harry Potter movies were filmed at Alnwick Castle. (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

Farther up in northern England, you can also have a realm of adventure in another iconic castle. The Alnwick Castle was built in 1096 and is the seat of the Duke of Northumberland. It has been the home to the Percy family for over 700 years. After the Windsor Castle, it is the second largest inhabited castle in England. Two Harry Potter movies were filmed here as the castle was used as a standin for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Broomstick training is included in the admission ticket.

Oxford

As an idealistic student way back in high school, the prestigious schools I dreamt of going to college were Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Oxford University in England. Graduating from the University of the Philippines wasn’t a bad choice, either. Oxford is 90 km from London, and the trip takes an hour by train. A visit to the University of Oxford is a trip into the brains of England – its first university. The city’s scholars founded the school in 1167, after the English students were forbidden to go the University of Paris by Henry II.

The College Hall of Christ Church was the inspiration for the dining hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Ruiz)
The College Hall of Christ Church was the inspiration for the dining hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Ruiz)

The thirty-six colleges of Oxford University were established between the 13th and 16th centuries. Christ Church is the grandest of all Oxford colleges, initially founded in 1525 as an ecclesiastical college to train cardinals. Christ Church has produced 13 British prime ministers in the last 200 years.

At the College Hall of Christ Church, there are impressive portraits and long polished wood tables in the large dining hall where students eat and their senior teachers sit at the high table. This was the inspiration for the dining hall of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.

Tour the hallowed halls of the university and be amazed by its buildings, which are gems of medieval architecture. The domed Baroque Radcliffe Camera is the most famous building in Oxford. It was built in 1748 to house the great library belonging to Dr. John Radcliffe. Behind the Camera is the Bodleian Library, the most famous book collection in the world and was used as Hogwarts library in the movies. The university became the impetus for the growth of the city whose distinctive skyline consists of tall towers and dreaming spires.

Stratford-upon-Avon

Stratford-upon-Avon is situated on the west bank of the River Avon, 160 km northwest of London, and is among the most visited tourist attractions outside London. It looks like a small beautifully preserved Tudor market town, with halftimbered houses and pretty tree-lined river banks along Avon. Eager fans of the poet William Shakespeare have been flocking to his birthplace since his death in 1616 to see the buildings associated with the greatest playwright of all time. Among these places are Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

The domed Baroque Radcliffe Camera is the most famous building in Oxford (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)
The domed Baroque Radcliffe Camera is the most famous building in Oxford (Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

Bath

You can take a train from London to Bath, which is only 156 km away. Bath is a small beautiful city set among the rolling green hills of the Avon Valley. As the city is relatively compact, one can walk around town to appreciate the magnificent Georgian-style houses and the splendid English countryside.

The most majestic street in England is by the iconic Royal Crescent. Here you will be rewarded by the sight of the graceful façade formed by a crescent of thirty colorful Georgian houses with Ionic columns. This is definitely one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in the entire Britain.

However, what makes Bath famous is that fact that the Romans discovered a bubbling spring in the heart of the city with reported curative properties during the first century. The Romans built the first spa and baths around the spring. This is one of England’s greatest memorials to the Roman era. Bath regained its fame as a spa town in the Georgian era of the 18th century. The City became a World Heritage site in 1987.

The author Dr. Jun Ruiz with ladies who read Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)
The author Dr. Jun Ruiz with ladies who read Shakespeare in Stratford-upon-Avon (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

Spend an hour exploring the Roman Baths – the remains of one of the greatest spas of the ancient world. These ruins from 2,000 years ago give us a vivid history of Bath’s spa culture of how the Romans once bathed in the natural thermal spa water. The open-air Great Bath stands at the heart of the complex, and this was not discovered until the 1870s after extensive excavations. The designs of the bathing chambers and the Great Bath revealed the impressive skill of Roman engineering of that time.

Around one million liters of thermal water, containing 43 minerals and has a temperature of 46 degrees, flow into the Roman Baths daily. The water is colorless, but acquires its green hue from the algae growth in the pool caused by its heat and by daylight. You can see and feel the steam rising from thermal waters of the Great Bath. The spa water can be tasted in the Pump Room. Around one million tourists visit the Roman Baths yearly.

As bathing at the Roman Baths is no longer possible, you can still immerse in a complete Bath experience if you have time. Go to the Thermae Bath Spa, where you can be pampered and enjoy the natural thermal waters in the open-air rooftop pool. This was opened in 2006 to offer visitors an opportunity to bathe in naturally heated spring waters that Romans used to do two millenniums ago.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the wonders of the ancient world, and this was indeed the highlight of the trip. It is likely the most famous and the most dramatic prehistoric monument on earth. In today’s world, visitors experience Stonehenge as a marvel of ancient achievement and a persistent symbol of mystery. Archaeologists have believed it was constructed in several stages from 3000 to 2000 B.C. Stonehenge is an impressive relic from the Stone Age that stood the test of time and was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986.

The grand Stonehenge evokes mystery and enigma. The origins, purpose, and the method of construction of this unique prehistoric monument are thought provoking and continue to puzzle scientists up to this day. Stonehenge is believed to be a prehistoric temple to the sun – the alignment of the circle of the stones is connected with the sun and the passing of the changing seasons. Despite centuries of archaeological investigation, Stonehenge will continue to keep some of its secrets.

The Roman Baths in England's greatest memorial to the Roman era (Photo courtesy of visitbath.co.uk)
The Roman Baths in England’s greatest memorial to the Roman era (Photo courtesy of visitbath.co.uk)

Stonehenge consists of an outer ring of standing sarsen stones and an inner horseshoe of five trilithons (2 uprights and 1 lintel). Stonehenge was built in several stages starting from 3000 B.C., with major stone construction work between 2500 to 2300 B.C. The construction of these massive stones in Stonehenge was an extraordinary feat for its time, given that the only available tools during that period were made of stone, wood, and bone. The huge sarsen stones were brought to the site from more than 50-200 km away, and had to be transported and erected – entailing immense resources and enormous number of people.

In Bath, you can appreciate the Georgian-style houses and the English countryside (Photo courtesy of visitbath.co.uk)
In Bath, you can appreciate the Georgian-style houses and the English countryside (Photo courtesy of visitbath.co.uk)

The stones were carefully aligned to mark the position of the rising sun at midsummer, and the setting sun in mid-winter solstice. In addition, these prehistoric people likely had adequate knowledge of arithmetic and astronomy to achieve such an impressive foundation. There have been restorations that required re-erections of the standing sarsens, due to thousands of years of decay, most recently in 1958 and 1963.

The author exploring the Roman Baths (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)
The author exploring the Roman Baths (Photo courtesy of Jun Ruiz)

This remarkable journey to London and the English countryside was such a riveting experience – unequalled in royal pageantry, colorful history, and rich cultural traditions. Great Britain is such an enchanting country, yet we still have to cover the picturesque Scotland in our next travelogue to complete a trilogy on Great Britain. For the time being, English tea anyone?

The author Dr. Jun Ruiz enjoying his tour in Stonehenge, believed to be a prehistoric temple to the sun (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Ruiz)
The author Dr. Jun Ruiz enjoying his tour in Stonehenge, believed to be a prehistoric temple to the sun (Photo courtesy of Cynthia Ruiz)
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