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England – Overview
England is a kingdom dripping with tradition and pride. The is a brief intro to this royal kingdom and some places you may find worthwhile.
Yeah, you can find the typical Brit snobs, but you will find that most of the people are friendly, down-to-earth, and steadfast, if at times somewhat enjoyably quirky. In fact, although more reserved than Americans, many Americans find friends in Britain with little difficulty, especially when camping or doing something else together with the British, such as hiking, biking, or other activities. Our common language is a huge advantage in Britain and enables you to speak to anyone.
The land is so enchantingly beautiful it is awe-inspiring. Great Britain truly is one of the most beautiful islands in the world. England is a green, pleasant, and graceful land with rustic, orderly villages and towns and vibrant cities all with centuries-old architecture that capture the quintessential essence of England. It is like visiting an enchanted land.
There are several large cities in England, such as Liverpool and Manchester, but the most important city politically and culturally is London.
In some ways, London captures the spirit of England and it is its very center in many ways except geographically. Besides a healthy and ever-changing clubbing scene, London also has a major place to see live theatre in the English-speaking world; and this is located in the West End districts of Soho and Covent Garden. Interesting places to see in the daytime include The Eye, which is a giant Ferris wheel with large enclosed cabins that travel slowly around and provide surprisingly good vistas of London. A cruise tour of the Thames River travels through the center of London, but you may also visit the Tower of London that houses the Crown jewels, the London Aquarium, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace, Westminster Abbey, and The London Zoo, to name a few. For those interested, London has a number of major world-renowned museums including the National Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Museum of Victoria and Albert. If you need to do some shopping for yourself or for gifts or just for fun, visit some neighborhood flea markets and antique shops on the weekend.
But London is not everyone’s cup of tea.
Get Out of London
Many American visitors remain in London for their entire vacation, and that is a dogfish shame. If you are backpacking or have the gumption to strike out and travel the roads and byways away from the big city, then for goodness sake after you see some of London, get out of London and roam through the rest of England.
The English countryside has been the topic of rhyme and verse, ballad and song for over a thousand years. Simply put, it is awe-inspiring in its forested grandeur, and a welcome refuge from the hectic city. In deepest England you will free yourself from (most) freeways and except for festivals, mobs of people and find the quiet villages and towns that are the prototypical Olde England. Of course, in the summer months, many Britons have the same idea, so the larger tourist towns may not be as quiet as one may wish.
But there are other delights. In the summer months festivals are everywhere and you will be able to attend folk music festivals, rock festivals, and all other kinds of festivals all across Britain. Visit a government tourist office for festivals in the areas you plan to visit.
In addition, there is an abundance of magnificent medieval cathedral cities such as Lincoln, York, Salisbury, Durham and Winchester, fascinating ruined castles and majestic country manor houses that dot the countryside that are open to the public, an abundance of peaceful gardens, National Trails footpaths hundreds of miles long, and picturesque villages each with its own unique eccentricities, literally all over England.
Research and plan ahead of your trip and plan where you would like to go and what you would like to see and experience.
The following are some districts, towns, and places you might like to visit.
Some consider Bath the most idyllic of English towns. Bath is west of London and in the beautiful English countryside, Bath is an especially beautiful town. This is the location of the famous Roman Baths, which became popular because of natural hot springs in the area. The remains of the Roman baths are open to the public.
Oxford & Cambridge
These are separate towns but one cannot be discussed without the other, as the history of England is intertwined with the ancient universities of both of these towns. In fact, the two towns are sometimes referred to as “Oxbridge.” Oxford and Cambridge are incredibly beautiful towns that are so profoundly English and upper class that their importance and prestige would border on myth were it not fact.
Oxford is the older of the two towns and Oxford University is the oldest in Britain. Oxford University has 36 colleges and over 14,000 students. Oxford is a very small town that is also one of the major tourist destinations in Britain. This means it is often very crowded, so we do not consider driving a car in Oxford as a viable option. If you are arriving by car, there is a Park and Ride service with buses into the city centre that we recommend you use. Or bring bikes and bike around Oxford. Incidentally, if you attempt to rent a punt (boat) to go punting on the river, we recommend you do so only if you are a strong swimmer as learning to control a punt is incredibly difficult, but as all such things- it looks so easy.
Cambridge is a very pleasant town not far from Oxford. There are many things to see and do in Cambridge, but because it is a smaller in size, Cambridge is the best choice to visit during the school year, but if classes are out Oxford is boss.
Stonehenge & Avebury
Stonehenge is a famous prehistoric ritual site made up of a circular formation of enormous boulders. There are various theories on the origins of Stonehenge, but it is acknowledged that it served as an astronomical observatory and it had major religious significance. Visitors have come in increasing numbers over the years so to protect the site, it can only be observed at a distance, so don’t expect to be able to walk around the boulders.
Avebury is not far away and it is also a magnificent prehistoric site. Unlike Stonehenge, Avebury is still fully accessible to visitors. It is certainly worth a visit.
The farm fields and gentle rolling hills of the Cotswolds are an gorgeous area west of Oxford, east of Gloucester, and running north up to an area south of Birmingham, in southwest England. The Government has designated it as an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB). It is best to visit this unusually picturesque area off season. Should you visit during the warm months avoid the larger towns and you will not in any way lesson your experience. There is a National Trail called ‘The Cotswold Way’ which is a hiking footpath that runs for 102 miles (164 km) along the dramatic escarpment of the Cotswold Hills from Bath north and then parallel to Gloucester and then north through the countryside to the west of Cheltenham and then north to Chipping Campden. Several prehistoric sites are close to the trail and are worth visiting.
Glastonbury & Its Festival
Of interest to those with of a spiritual, New Age, NeoPagan, Traditional Craft, or Transitional Community orientation, Glastonbury, in Somerset, southwest England, is of special significance. If you are of like mind, you will find this small town an interesting place to visit. For some, it is a place of pilgrimage to experience its special energy-matrix, similar to that of Sedona, Arizona, with the convergence of energy lines, or lay lines, close to the town. Glastonbury also has its share of myths as it is thought by some as the possible location of King Arthur’s Isle of Avalon. In any event, it is certainly a unique place with interesting people.
Since the 1970’s, Glastonbury has been famous for its open-air performing arts festival, which actually takes place in the small town of Pilton, near Glastonbury. The Glastonbury Festival is a music festival that has drawn some of the leading pop and rock musicians, but there is also live theatre, comedy, and dance productions, a circus, a cabaret, and other arts. The Festival usually takes place in the latter part of June, but did not occur in 2012 due to the 2012 London Olympics. In 2011, tickets sold out within four hours of going on sale. You have to plan well ahead if you want to attend.
Cornwall’s Eden Project
Although Cornwall is itself an interesting county, of special interest is an astonishing place called the Eden Project. It consists of two incredibly enormous domes with secondary supporting domes that make up the world’s largest greenhouse. This is a green-conscious facility that is huge in size. If you arrive by foot, bike, or by public transportation, you will qualify for the “Green Discount” of £19.50 for admission. Although expensive, it is well-worth it.
Inside the first dome is a tropical rainforest environment and the second has a Mediterranean environment. Thousands upon thousands of plants and trees are carefully tended. You are able to follow a path through these domed environments. It is a pleasant and beautiful experience. It is located in the countryside 1¼ miles (2 km) from the town of St. Blazey and 3 miles (5 km) from St. Austell.
The Lake District
Another especially beautiful area are the mountains and serene lakes of The Lake District, also called ‘The Lakes’, in northwest England, that essentially is the national park of the same name. The pastoral mountain scenery of The Lakes is breathtaking with stunning views comparable with any you will find in Switzerland. The mountains with its natural lakes and beautiful rustic villages was the inspiration for some of England’s leading romantic poets of the 19th century including Wordsworth and Coleridge.
Manchester is an impressive city in the north of England that has transformed itself into a modern metropolis that has fully embraced the 21st century like few others in Europe. Many consider Manchester as the most dynamic city in England if not in Europe, and after London the most important city in England.
Manchester is a lively city with a very active nightlife, a lively fine arts scene, the place of a ‘musical revolution’, and has a considerable amount of modern architecture. It is clearly the city of the future and it is the only English city to carefully plan for orderly and planned residential expansion. It has been compared to Barcelona in its uniqueness and modernity. It is a wonderful place for a vacation, and it is cheaper, friendlier, and more pleasant than London– but that is a personal opinion. Manchester has five universities and a very active night scene.
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