Despite several trips to the British Isles, I’ve actually spent relatively little time in England proper. I decided to remedy that last summer with a trip there with my older sister. This visit we focused on London, Bath and Cornwall.
The weather in London was glorious when we arrived and Hyde Park an easy walk from our hotel. In late May the park seemed to be at the height of its beauty with its lush greenery and bright flowers everywhere. I’ve featured the park in a couple of my Regency-era set books, and seeing all the whimsical statues, the dramatic marble entry arch and lovely water features magically recaptured that long-ago era.
On a previous visit I’d zipped passed by the Tower of London without having time for a tour, so it was a must-see on this trip. The most impressive part of the tower complex is the White Tower, which was built by William the Conqueror in the 1070’s.
Other kings added on more structures and buildings, and in the hundreds of years since then, the tower complex has been a fortress, a residence, a prison, a treasury and an execution ground. It also featured a menagerie/zoo for several hundred years, with lions, leopards, elephants and even a polar bear. The only “wildlife” left today are the ravens of the tower, whose presence there is said to ensure the survival of the empire.
The other main tourist attraction we visited in London was the British Museum. One could easily spend several days there, so you have to pick and choose what you focus on. I was naturally drawn to the dark age and medieval displays, which are the eras my books are set in. But I also adored the exhibits from the truly archaic time periods. I may never set a book in ancient Egypt or Mesopotamia, but there is something incredible about viewing artifacts that reveal how people lived six thousand years ago.
From London, we took the train to Bath, which has been a tourist destination for thousands of years. In the days of Roman Britain it was already drawing hordes of visitors to enjoy the warm, healing waters of the Baths. In the Regency era it was a popular social center. We toured the Baths and climbed to the top of the cathedral to see the ancient bells as well as spectacular views of the area.
Along with the incredible Roman sites and artifacts, the city brings to life the world of Jane Austen. The Royal Crescent is an architectural marvel and many of the buildings, gardens and the park exude an ambiance right out of the 18th century. The Museum of Fashion displays the actual clothes the English upper crust wore over the last several hundred years, and the museum is housed in a building that is a glamorous event site reminiscent of the days of ballrooms and assembly halls.
The last leg of our journey was to Cornwall, also steeped in history going back centuries. According to legend, Tintagel is the birthplace of King Arthur, and the breathtaking setting makes it easy to envision it as the site of legendary tales of adventure and heroism.
Fast forward a few hundred years to a much more civilized time. The restored country house of Lanhydrock conjures the elegant world of a wealthy Victorian era family. The fifty-room mansion features magnificent décor from India and China, as well stunning gardens and outbuildings. The “gallery” of the house is big enough to play football in, although the plaster ceiling with detailed classical scenes and the bookshelf-lined walls conjure a more sedate mood.
The scenery and natural beauty of Cornwall was one of the main reasons we wanted to visit there. We hiked to the top of Rough Tor where the desolate beauty reminded me of the moors in Wuthering Heights. A walk among the gnarled, ancient trees and mossy boughs of Devichoy Woods evoked the timeless peace of a classic English forest.
Everywhere we went in Cornwall we were reminded of the past. Medieval-era cathedrals, glorious gardens, picturesque inns and houses transported us back through the centuries. For an American, and one who lives in the Mountain West, where something is old if it’s been around a hundred years, I found it incredible to visit places with such a direct connection to the past. Cornwall is truly a place that honors the people and stories that made it what it is today.
Of course, like all my trips, this one wasn’t nearly long enough, and I’ve already started a list of things I want to see on my next journey “across the pond”. And this webpage isn’t big enough to share more than a tiny portion of the sites we saw. For more photos and stories about my exploration of London, Bath and Cornwall, visit my blog.
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