UK Part 2: BritRail Pass Adventures

As I said in my last entry, my mom and I bought a BritRail Pass prior to going to the UK, mainly because we wanted to save time and money just in case we wanted to go outside London1. We loved using it so much that we ended up going on day trips for 8 consecutive days!

You can skip ahead to specific parts in this post:

Day 7: Stonehenge

For our first day out of London, we went to Salisbury, home of Stonehenge!

My sister, my mom, and I arrived early at London Waterloo station to catch the train to Salisbury, but unfortunately we were informed that the first two trains to Salisbury were cancelled. I didn’t know what was going on but I was gutted; the next train was due to arrive at around 1 PM and we didn’t have a choice but to wait.

It’s a shame that we arrived late in the afternoon, but fortunately for us, Stonehenge was still open so we were still able to visit it. The initial hassle of getting to Salisbury was worth it because… well, just look at this beauty:

I think my sister and I spent an hour around the site just taking photos! Stonehenge definitely looks beautiful in every angle. It was also nice that our tickets came with free audio guides, so we were also able to learn more about the history of the place. It’s fascinating to me that there’s still so much that we don’t know about Stonehenge despite its fame. All we know is that it was an important monument but we don’t know why it was built in the first place! We can only guess as of now!

Besides a visit to Stonehenge, our tickets also included a guided tour of Old Sarum and Salisbury Cathedral. But since we arrived late, we were not able to take full advantage of our tickets, which is a shame. I was really looking forward to seeing Old Sarum too, since I was very curious about its history. After all, it is one of the oldest settlements in those parts.

Oh well, we were just unlucky!

Day 8: Stratford-upon-Avon

For the second day of our BritRail Pass adventures we went to Stratford-upon-Avon, William Shakespeare’s birthplace!

To be completely honest, I was never the biggest Shakespeare fan when I was in school. I thought his writings were hard to comprehend so I never really exerted much effort into learning them thoroughly. Still though, everyone was required to study his works in school so I actually enjoyed getting to know the man behind the famous plays we read!

When you buy a ticket to Shakespeare’s Birthplace, you can also get access to other Shakespeare-related attractions2, and the ticket is valid for one year! How cool is that?

We first went to Shakespeare’s birthplace, which made me feel like I was travelling back in time. The exhibits really made me feel that I was living at home with William Shakespeare. It was also very nice that they had costumed guides to tell stories about Shakespeare’s upbringing and his family. Oh, and they have Shakespeare Aloud sessions where you can listen to actors recite quotes from Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets! You can even request for them to recite or act out your favorites! I swear they know every word!

I like this style of architecture! I felt like I was in a time machine when I went into Shakespeare’s birthplace!
A bedroom at Shakespeare’s house! I’ve always wanted a bed like his!

We also got to see Hall’s Croft, the home of William Shakespeare’s daughter and her husband, Dr. Hall. The exhibits were all about Tudor-era medicine and there were also medicinal herbs in the garden! <3 Shakespeare’s New Place, on the other hand, is the site of the house Shakespeare bought for his family. This is also where his creativity peaked, as he finished a large number of his works in this house. But when you enter the gates, you will notice that there is just a large garden… but no house. Turns out that the man who bought the property after Shakespeare’s death demolished the house because he was so annoyed with all the “Shakespeare tourists” wanting to see where the famous author lived! LOL!

This and the surrounding gardens are all that’s left of Shakespeare’s New Place.
One of the rooms at Hall’s Croft. This is where Dr. Hall makes the medicines that he gives to his patients!

We didn’t get to see Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm since we had so much fun just walking around town and hanging around the river. I think we spent a good deal of time just watching people boating and chilling at the area!

Day 9: Bath

When I was looking for day trip destinations from London, Bath appeared quite often on travel websites’ lists, along with Stonehenge. Our original plan was to squeeze both Bath and Stonehenge in one day, but after going to both, I’m thankful that we didn’t push through with that plan because if we did, we wouldn’t have been able to explore more of Bath.

We didn’t know anything about Bath besides… well, The Roman Baths, so we decided to go on a city sightseeing bus tour at the last minute to see what else the city had to offer.

Our first stop was the Jane Austen Centre since it was the nearest stop to the bus station. The center had a tour guide who explained all the details of the exhibit and introduced Jane Austen’s life to tourists before letting everyone into the exhibit rooms. There were only a few tourists when we went there in the morning, but that meant we had ample time to read through the exhibits and learn more about Jane’s life!

(That also meant that I wasn’t able to take many photos, as usual, because I was too busy reading)

After the Jane Austen Centre, we went to The Roman Baths to see what the buzz was about. Wow. The hype is real!

But what makes the site even more special is that it’s not just a public bath like I originally thought – it was also a temple complex dedicated to Minerva! Actually, archaeological finds in the site suggest that this was once a popular temple and bath house, and travellers from all over the empire used to go here to worship or have a dip in the waters in the belief that the hot springs had healing properties. And before we left, we had a taste of the spa water – after all, it’s pretty famous and the Romans were crazy for this back in the day, so I had to try it!

Well, what can I say? It’s a… err… rather interesting experience. The water has a strange aftertaste, kind of like drinking hot water from a mossy river. Something like that. Not a fan! XD

We weren’t in a hurry to go back to London, so we just strolled around the rest of Bath for the remainder of the day!

Bath was a very popular city for tourists because of its hot spring water, so many of the structures in the city were constructed just to provide holiday apartments for tourists.

I love how there are so many parks around the UK. I know it’s just green space, but somehow everything feels so much nicer when there are parks in a city. As someone who grew up in a city sorely lacking in green spaces, I find parks very refreshing.
The Royal Crescent, one of my favorite places in Bath! The surrounding area is so relaxing!

Day 10: Bristol

At this point in our trip, we’ve come to rely on the city sightseeing bus tours to give us ideas on the best places to visit in each city, since we didn’t plan anything at all for most of our trip XD

We arrived in Bristol quite late, so we didn’t have enough time to explore most of the bus tour stops. So, we finished the whole bus tour first and chose to focus on the top 2 or 3 places that interested us.

If you’ve read my previous post, you know that I have this fascination with ships and shipbuilding. So, it was only natural that I wanted to see SS Great Britain first!

SS Great Britain’s design, conceived by I.K. Brunel,  was considered novel during the time she was built. Everything about her was new: she was made of iron, had a screw propeller instead of paddle wheels, had a 1000 hp steam engine, and was by far the largest ship ever built. These are some of the reasons why SS Great Britain considered very important in the history of shipbuilding… and why I wanted to see it!

SS Great Britain from afar. Before she was a museum ship, she was a passenger ship first. She is most well-known for transporting passengers from the UK to Australia at the time of the Australian gold rush.
SS Great Britain suffered lots of damage from a storm during her last voyage and was left abandoned after a long time at the Falkland Islands. Luckily, she was rescued before she completely rusted away. The base has to be kept in a certain temperature and humidity level though, so that there would be no further damage to the iron body.
Only the people with the most expensive tickets could go up to this part and enjoy the sea breeze. Most standard-class passengers could only stay in the lower levels.
SS Great Britain used to transport cattle too!
Besides learning about maritime history, you can also catch great views of the city aboard the ship!

Before we left SS Great Britain, we were approached by a lady who asked if we would be interested to catch a tour of the Brunel Institute3 , named after the man behind SS Great Britain. It was free and it was only open every hour or so, so I agreed! Of course I would love to learn more!

(Plus, it was an exclusive area and tourists have to ask permission to be let in, so being ASKED to go in is such an honor!)

We went walking around the bayside after we left the institute and ended up at M Shed, a museum about Bristol’s modern history and its people.

My mom wanted to ride the bus back to the train station but the traffic was so bad (surprise, there’s traffic outside Manila!!!) so we walked instead. I don’t mind walking, really, there’s so much to see in Bristol anyway!

Probably one of my favorite Bristol views! Isn’t that gorgeous?
Taken later in the day. The view somehow reminds me of the Philippines’ ports.

Day 11: Cardiff

Never in my whole life did I imagine that I would ever be able to visit Wales. It’s just not high up on people’s must-visit places, at least not in my country! I’m so glad that I went though, because I loved everything about it.

This was where I realized that there were other languages spoken in the UK besides English. When I arrived at Cardiff, I got a little dazed because of all the Welsh signs and announcements around me. One lady even talked to me in Welsh, and I was just like “what” XD But they were kind enough to switch to English once they found out I was a tourist! Can I just say this: I love the Welsh accent! I don’t know but I find it so cute, and I think it’s more understandable than the other accents I’ve heard so far XD

We headed to Cardiff Castle first since it was the nearest attraction to the train station. Our walk going to the castle was so nice because it allowed me to see the surrounding area, and I find it so cute that there were Welsh flags all around me!

Cardiff Castle has a Roman past – parts of the castle’s great walls were made from Roman materials. Until now, visitors can still distinguish between the original Roman stones from the modern stones used in the restoration of the castle.
The castle rooms were used mostly for entertaining guests – and some of them left graffiti like this one!
Since the castle served as a fortress and guest accommodation, there is a separate building for the noble family’s residence.
The residence’s dining room. It’s even more stunning in person! The interior design is amazing… well, that’s what you get for hiring an architect who constantly goes over the budget!

After exploring the castle, we decided to explore the other parts of the city for a bit…

The views around Cardiff somehow reminds me of Manila!
The Wales Millennium Centre

…and ended up at Mermaid Quay, a popular hangout in Cardiff and a recommended spot for taking a sightseeing boat ride. We took a 25-minute boat ride from Mermaid Quay to Bute Park (a park just beside Cardiff Castle), and I really enjoyed it. I think Cardiff is amazing no matter where you look!

It’s such a shame that we only had one day in Cardiff, and I felt really bad for leaving so soon. If only we could stay one more day just so we could see everything!

Till next time, Cardiff!

Day 12: Oxford

We met my dad’s cousin and her family again, this time in Oxford, where they live!

Once we arrived, we we were brought straight to the Mini Factory in Oxford, where her husband works. Unfortunately, there was no available slot for the factory tour so we couldn’t see all of those robots and the rest of the assembly line in action… BUT we did get to see the exhibit about the history of the Mini, along with more modern cars and the planned Mini line for the coming years!

The exhibit houses the different Mini models throughout the years, plus some models of the electric cars that they’re planning to build in the future!
When you’re a tourist, do touristy stuff… such as posing beisde a Union Jack Mini. LOL!
Would I ever get the chance to drive a fancy car like this in real life?

After showing us their workplaces and hanging around their house for a bit, we went for a little walk around Oxford and saw the different college buildings. I swear, the whole city is dotted with college buildings everywhere. If living here doesn’t make you want to pursue further studies, I don’t know what will!

Oxford University Museum of Natural History
I even got to meet a bear! XD

Being in Oxford was pretty symbolic for me because even though I didn’t graduate from the colleges and universities around me, everything reminded me of the best times of my academic journey. I saw myself in the students walking or biking around the city. Seeing them emerge from a building talking about their classes or exams reminded me of myself and how I used to rant about school as well! I do miss being a student, but I don’t see myself pursuing a PhD anytime soon! Haha!

There you have it for part 2! Whew, we’ve been to so many places! Overall, I’m really happy with our BritRail Pass purchase. Having the passes allowed us to just hop on any train and go wherever we wanted to go… and you can have unlimited rail travel for 8 days! How awesome is that? I am definitely going to get these passes again the next time I take a long vacation in the UK!

Stay tuned for part 3 in the next few days!

  1. My mom didn’t want to stay overnight outside London so that we could help my sister out if ever she needed anything.
  2. Shakespeare’s New Place, Hall’s Croft (his daughter’s home), Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, and Mary Arden’s Farm (his mother’s home)
  3. The tour included an introduction to the SS Great Britain’s sister ship, the Royal Charter, which sank on its way back to Liverpool due to a storm. The institute displays the items recovered from the wreck, including several gold nuggets the passengers brought from Australia. The sinking of the Royal Charter paved the way for the introduction of the gale warning service for ships to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.


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