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British Heritage Magazine Tour

9/23/1996 • British Heritage Archives


We’ve taken to the road! Fourteen readers joined me last August for a special British Heritage Magazine Tour, first stopping in London, then travelling around the Lake District, across the Pennines and into the Yorkshire Dales, to Durham, Northumbria and back to London. Our guide Chris and driver Len both earned high marks for their professionalism and terrific personalities. The heavens literally smiled upon us too, as the weather couldn’t have been better, making for ideal sightseeing in congenial company.

In London some of us took a day-trip and see Hampton Court, while others viewed London sites from the comfort of a coach with commentary by Chris. We explored the city and were lucky to catch the hit show Oliver!

After the hustle and bustle of London, we used BritRail passes and caught a train to the Lake District. I had forgotten how breathtakingly beautiful the area is and was pleasantly surprised at how uncrowded certain parts were in the middle of August. We took a relaxing boat trip across Windermere to Ambleside (cheerfully rating one awkward-looking water-skier 3 out of 10 for style!) and strolled around Grasmere. We booked an early visit to Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage and Museum, which, judging by the crowds waiting outside later, was a very good idea.

A tour of the Beatrix Potter Gallery set the scene for a pleasant visit to the author’s home, Hill Top, where flowers cascaded over the path leading up to the house. I half expected to see Peter Rabbit scurry by!

Food ranged from full English breakfasts to pub lunches and teas. Hotel dinners featured carveries, with ample opportunity to monitor one’s intake, or, more likely, throw caution to the wind. The hotels were in good locations and the Burnside, in particular, was well situated, with its wonderful terrace and views over Lake Windermere.

The tour went at a comfortable pace and there was never a feeling of being too rushed. We learned a lot about the area by visiting the Lake District Vistors’ Centre on the shores of Lake Windermere, before launching into the rest of our sightseeing. Several surprise "off the itinerary" stops added greatly to our enjoyment, especially the visit to Escomb Church in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, and fascinating talk by the Rev. Beddow.

Alnwick Castle more than lived up to the article we featured in British Heritage. Andreas Fricker, Castle Administrator, gave us a useful introduction, and we wandered through this richly decorated castle at our leisure. Chris was thrilled to discover that a nightcap used by Oliver Cromwell was decorated with little rabbits!

It was interesting to compare such diverse sites as the ruins of Richmond Castle with well-preserved Alnwick, majestic Durham Cathedral with the little Saxon church at Escomb and 2,000-year-old Hadrian’s Wall.

Walking around Levens Hall in the Lake District gave me the distinct feeling of being a character in Alice in Wonderland. The topiary garden was amazing, with all sorts of shapes and sizes, dwarfing visitors. I was fascinated to learn that the hedges were clipped only once a year as I had visions of teams of gardeners constantly clipping away every day.

After seeing so many cathedrals and churches with plain or white walls, it was intriguing to find a sample wall in the impressive Durham Cathedral, showing that bright colours were part of the original decoration. Durham’s excellent shops yielded plenty of treasures to take home, including gifts, jewellery, books and antiques. Chris and I tucked into a tasty fish and chip lunch, and we were soon joined by more of our group. An evening walk along a footpath on the river Wear revealed a bright moon, forming a spectacular backdrop for the already-lit up Cathedral, looming high above the river on the hill, and reflected in the water below.

At the award-winning Open Air Museum at Beamish we stepped back into the early 1900s. Restored trams followed a leisurely 1 1/2 mile circuit around the Museum, (best views from the top!), taking us to visit houses and shops, a school, church, cottages, gardens and even a mine.

Our return journey from Durham to London on the train was very comfortable (a porter actually appeared to help with bags at Durham, after he had finished eating his breakfast!). There was time to pack in a few last-minute experiences: an Indian dinner, a play, meeting friends, more bookshop browsing, a boat ride on the Thames to Kew, a visit to the V & A, a walk around Hampstead and Keats’ House, and yes, I admit it, a restful nap in a Green Park deck-chair!

My thanks to all the staff of Lord Addison, the tour operator who organized the trip, Chris and Len, British Heritage readers Diana, Donald and Dorothy, Pablo and Joan, Virginia, Florence, Mary Ley, Sara, Beverly, Bill and Anne, Madalenne and Kathleen for making the tour such an enjoyable experience. As I said at our farewell dinner, every editor thinks he or she has the best readers, but I know that I have the very best. Virginia plans to create a commemorative rug of the trip, and it was so much fun that we want to have a reunion. Hope to see you all again soon!

Gail R. Huganir, Editor & Publisher, British Heritage

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