British Travels: Our Favorite New Experiences from our Last Trip to Britain

Having been to Britain so many times, there are always things we always like to do when we visit. But we also like to have some variety – it’s not good to always just do the same things over and over. To travel is to experience anew every time so when we planned a month in the UK, we were determined to do a bunch of things we’d never done before.

Here’s some of our favorite things we did for the first time on our last trip.

This article mostly focuses on our time outside of London (with a few exceptions), we’ll have another feature article next week that will detail our favorite new experiences from the London portion of our trip.

Going to the movies

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I went to the movies twice while we were in England. People’s first reaction is usually, ‘why would you waste time going to the movies, you’re in England!’ I have two very good reasons why.

First, I’m a huge Lord of the Rings/Tolkien Fan so when I learned the Hobbit would be opening after we’d already arrived and I would have to wait almost a month to see it when we got home, I was determined to see it while we were in England. I wanted to see it in the best venue possible and opted for the BFI IMAX in London – the biggest screen in Britain. It was a very fun experience and I’m glad I made the time to do it.

Second, we found ourselves with a willing babysitter during the Cotswolds portion of our trip and it had been quite a while since we’d had to chance to go out on our own on a date. Back home we usually do dinner and a movie so decided to do this British style. We had a lovely dinner in a cozy pub on the way to Bristol and then saw “The Railway Man” starring Colin Firth at a modern multiplex. It was a fantastic film and a fantastic night out.

I wrote in more detail on what it’s like to go the movies in Britain here (hint, it’s completely different).

Ruined Castles

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I’d been to a ruined manor house before but this trip was the first time we got to visit ruined castles – and we visited two. Corfe Castle in Dorset and Wardour Castle in Wiltshire. They were such a delight to visit. It’s so interesting to visit the crumbling ruins of a long gone home and think about the history that took place there and what history will take place there in the future. It was truly lovely. I will write in more detail about these fascinating places in a future feature article.

Stream Train

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I’ve sort of ridden a Steam Train before, but it’s not a full scale stream train (Heston Steam Museum for Northwest Indiana locals). So, it was with great excitement that I got to ride the Swanage Steam Railway, a restored steam railway offering rides through the Dorset Countryside with stops at Corfe Castle and Swanage. Despite the rain, it was pretty much the perfect day out and there’s nothing quite like the romance of hearing that whistle blow on a steam train. I’m definitely going to try and include visits to other steam train lines on our future trips.

Going to Wales

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We get a lot of criticism for the limited amount of places we’ve been in Britain, this is something we’re working on. That’s why we decided to fit in a day trip to Wales so we could visit a place in Britain we’d never been before and get some lovely pictures of Wales. We got the thrill of going over both Severn Bridges – a fun experience in itself! – and then visiting the ruins of Tintern Abbey. We also got a chance to visit Cardiff and have a poke around – visiting the Doctor Who Experience and the central shopping district (which is pedestrianized). We loved our visit to Wales – the most striking aspect being the fact that Welsh is on every road marking and publish signage. We can’t wait to go back and explore Wales in much more detail on a future trip.

Visiting Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

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Nelson is one of my favorite historical figures and Master and Commander is one of my favorite movies, so a day trip the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard was essential since we were only about an hour and a half away. The main attraction here? The HMS Victory, the very ship that Nelson commanded at the Battle of Trafalgar and where he died. It is beautifully preserved and it’s massive – well worth a visit if you have any interest in British Naval History. There’s also the new Mary Rose Museum as well as several other fascinating museums and exhibits on site. This is going to become a favorite destination and we can’t wait to go back!

Read more about our visit to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard here.

The Shopping Centre Tour of Britain

For various reasons, we ended up visiting three shopping malls while we were in the UK. By the third one, I muttered that we were going on the Shopping Centre tour of Britain as we’d been to so many. But honestly, we found them rather pleasant, as much as shopping malls can be. All had ample indoor parking and it was easy to get around with the kids and also find somewhere to eat. We visited the Westfield Sheperd’s Bush in London which was a lovely mall – which I believe is Europe’s largest mall. We also visited West Quay Shopping Centre in Southampton which was all right and finally we also visited Gun Wharf Quay in Portsmouth. That was also nice but it was more open to the air but it had plenty of nice places to eat and lovely shops. While they’re certainly not culturally enriching places, it’s a great places to live life as a local as you become part of the hustle and bustle of daily life.

The Church Bells on Christmas Day

This was probably my most favorite memory from the trip. Our cottage on Gold Hill in Shaftesbury Dorset, Updown Cottage, is right down the hill from the local Church (which was built in the Victorian Era). On Christmas day it was truly lovely to hear the bells ring out what seemed like forever. It was raining but it was worth it standing outside the front door to listen to the bells roll. And when they were finished another church in Shaftesbury followed suit with their bells. The cascade of bells on Christmas Day was beautiful. I have a video of this which I’ll be sharing at a later date.

Miss Anglotopia ‘Waking Up’

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As many of you probably know, we had a baby girl last summer and when we left for the trip, she was a mere 6 months old. This is a most lovely time for a baby as they transition from being a 24hour screaming machine that’s completely oblivious to the world around them to a little person that is aware of the world around them and starts to interact with it. Miss Anglotopia did this on the trip. We will always remember that we watched her turn into a person on this trip and that’s priceless. She started playing with toys for the first time. She started to interact with us for the first time. She became our baby girl. Couple this with Anglotopia Jr learning how to walk on our trip in 2012 and we have a nice set of memories that makes it worth all the misery involved in traveling with young children. Almost.

Taking Anglotopia Jr to see Big Ben

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For months before the trip we began building up the hype for it to our young son. He has a photo of Big Ben hanging on his wall – along with a book about it so he’s all about Big Ben. So, we told him that when we get to London, we’d take him to see Big Ben. He was understandably stoked about this. I wasn’t there for the moment when he heard Big Ben chime for the first time (I was on my tour of Parliament) but Mrs Anglotopia informs me that he was suitably thrilled. When we did it again a few days later – he was still thrilled. Now it’s all he talks about.

Christmas Lunch

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One of the things I was looking forward to most was having a traditional Christmas Lunch on Christmas Day. Mrs Anglotopia took to the planning of this with great gusto. Months before we even left for the trip we ordered our Turkey in advance from a local butcher (it would be farm fresh). She studied up on what was cooked and how it was prepared. And while we didn’t stick to the script completely – it was more of a hybrid meal – it was pretty much the culinary highlight of my trip to Britain and I don’t even really like Turkey, but it turned out delicious!

Experiencing Sunday Roast for the First Time

We’d never had a proper Sunday Roast before this trip – something that really needed to be remedied. So one day while we were out and about, we found a pub and had a hearty Sunday Roast and it was probably one of the best meals we had on the entire trip until the last Sunday Roast we had where we were invited to a friend’s house for a home cooked Sunday Roast. We’re converted. We now try to have our own Sunday Roast at home whenever we can – complete with Yorkshire Pudding. Yum!

What was your favorite new experience from your last trip to Britain? Let us know in the comments!

Comments

  1. avatarRosalie Gjerde says

    I was walking by the Queen’s Chapel in London. It is not open to the public throughout the week unlike most English churches. The notice board said that on Sunday the choir would be singing Mozart’s Coronation Mass, the Queen’s Chaplin would be preaching and the alms that day would go to Help for Heroes charity. TRIFECTA. So Sunday morning I was there,.The chapel is beautiful and the choir was divine, the collection was taken and the Chaplin spoke to everyone in the congregation as we left. I even had a great chat with a darling 10 year old chorister and his mum.

  2. avatarCindy Skinner says

    We went to England this summer. It was everyone’s first time but mine, but my first time was almost 30 years ago, so it is almost as if it was new. Every single thing we did was new to us. My husband and son fell in love with York. Sean (my son 15) liked how friendly it was and how easy was to get around. Cassandra’s (my daughter 17) loved seeing Runnymeade and the Magna Carta at the British Library. Me??? I know it sounds cliche but I loved every single place and every thing we did. We spent a week touring the country then a week in London. This summer, Sean and I are spending almost 3 weeks in Europe. I could not go to Europe without popping over to England. We want to revisit the Tower of London (ran out of time), the British Library (Sean didn’t get to see it and I ran out of time) and I am taking Sean to The Making Of Harry Potter and to the Dr. Who exhibit in Cardiff (we just bought our plane tickets today). As excited as I am to go to Paris, Salzburg and Venice (all new to me), my heart is in England.

    • avatarTony Sperrin says

      When you get to Cardiff and if you have time and if you like art then visit the museum and see John Constable’s painting of ‘Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows’. Entry is free and the painting is there till September 7th 2014. A truly wonderful painting. You can spend many hours looking throughout the museum, with Monet and Lowrie originals amongst many others. We were there last week and I totally recommend it.

  3. avatarLeigh Mariana says

    Sounds like a lovely trip :) I’m glad you liked Wales and the Cotswolds (where I’m from) too!

    I also love the church bells ringing out on Christmas day and for other special events eg. the Jubilee

    Next time, I definitely recommend a trip to the Warner Brothers studios for the Harry Potter exhibit. I know it’s cliche but it really is magical!

  4. avatarBeth says

    I’m sorry you received criticism about where you’ve visited so far in Britain. There’s only so much time and money to work with. I’ve been over 3 times so far for about 5.5 – 6 weeks total, and it’s always tough to balance visiting new places and returning to beloved favorites.

    As for my favorite new experience on the last visit: It was my shortest trip running from just before Thanksgiving through the first week in December. So, I got to experience Christmas markets, carol singing at St. Martin’s-in-the-Fields, and the day they cut off traffic to Oxford St. to celebrate the opening of holiday shopping season. I was near Oxford St. that day for a fantastic chocolate tour which was worth the expense to me.

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