There’s nothing quite like a good bit of British weather. The sort that gets right in your face, blows you off your feet, stings your eyes with fat drops of water, and makes a mockery of your umbrella.
This was the weather that found us at Stonehenge on a recent day trip from London – a bitingly cold squally wind combined with freezing raindrops. The sort of thing that would usually have you hiding in a pub and warming yourself by a nice, reliably crackling fire.
It didn’t dampen the mood of our guide though. No, Phil, representing City Wonders Tours, barely batted an eyelid as the wind threw his raincoat around his body in unholy shapes. He just kept on telling us, with barely controlled excitement, all about the history and discoveries of one of Britain’s most fascinating ancient monuments, as we attempted to remain anchored to the Earth.
Let’s rewind a bit.
On our recent trip to the UK, which was Jess’s first encounter with the country and her unique weather, we were invited by City Wonders to experience some of their tours, from an extensive selection, both in the UK and abroad.
Today, I’m going to tell you all about that day out into the countryside, where we visited the gorgeous Roman city of Bath, took in a pub lunch in the Cotswolds, and finished off with the mighty Stonehenge. Let’s get started, and by the end hopefully you’ll have an idea if a day trip from London to see these sights is something you’d enjoy doing.
Our Experience with City Wonders
This tour covers a lot of distance, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that there’s an early start, with a meet-time of 7.15am scheduled. Thankfully, the meeting point was by Gloucester Road tube stop, a five minute walk from our apartment in London.
Everyone was on time, and our group was a good size, there being 18 of us. City Wonders only operate smaller groups, with a maximum size of 25.
That smaller group size meant there was plenty of room on the bus, which was a medium size, and had oodles of legroom and exceptionally comfortable seats. As we pulled out of London at 7:30am, largely avoiding the morning rush hour, our guide Phil got started on chatting to us about our day and what we could expect.
First stop: Bath
Our first stop was to be the Roman city of Bath, a good 2.5 hour drive from London. We arrived mid-morning, and Phil took us on a quick introductory tour of Bath, sharing with us some of his highlights and the history of the city. Then we were presented with a choice, we could visit the Roman Baths (admission extra), or take a guided walking tour with Phil.
This option was presented to us as the heavens opened, with many on our group opting for the drier, interior choice. Myself and a couple from the US were the only brave souls who were happy to brave the weather, and Phil set us off on a 45 minute guided tour of Bath, taking in all the highlights, while Jess went inside to see the Roman Baths.
We saw the remarkable Pulteney Bridge (one of only four bridges in the world with shops on), as well as Bath Abbey, the Circus and of course, the Royal Crescent, as well as many other sights. Throughout the tour, despite the weather, Phil kept us informed and entertained as to what we were seeing, which happily distracted me from the fact my jeans were slowly affixing themselves to my legs as the rain moistened me.
Finally, we reconvened back at the Roman Baths, where Jess and I had just enough time for a Bath Bun and a spot of tea at the Pump Room, the cafe attached to the Roman Baths, to the pleasing sounds of a live string orchestra. Then it was back to the bus, and around half an hour’s drive to:
Lunch in the Cotswalds
Update 2017 – As of 2017 a number of readers have let me know that lunch is not included on the tour any more, and the tour no longer stops in Castle Combe as a result. This is unfortunate, but we still feel the tour represents good value for money, plus having more time to explore Lacock is actually a good move. I’ve left the text from our tour the same to reflect the experience we had, but do be aware that the current version of the tour is slightly different.
A definite highlight of this tour (I like food!) was that lunch was included, in a gorgeous little pub in a picturesque village in the Cotswolds. So picturesque in fact, that while we were there a feature film was in the process of being shot on the main street.
The village we visited was called Castle Combe, and it was pretty much everything you could want from a quaint English village in the Cotswolds, with incredibly cute stone houses, an old market cross, an ancient church (replete with crumbling gravestones and 13th century clock) and flowing stream.
And of course, that pub, where we had a lovely two course meal, in between which I dashed around taking pictures and trying to catch the moments of sun that the day was at that point attempting to bestow upon us.
After lunch, and a few more minutes wandering around Castle Combe (it’s not a big place!), it was back in the bus for another 20 minute ride or so to Lacock, another lovely village in the Cotswolds, also stuffed with cute houses and streets, and almost entirely owned by the National Trust, who have preserved its natural appearance.
Beyond being pretty, Lacock is also interesting for two more reasons, both of which revolve around Lacock Abbey, a 13th century country house in the heart of Lacock.
The first reason, interesting to me as a photographer at least, is that it was at Lacock Abbey in 1835 that the oldest surviving photographic negative was taken, by William Henry Fox Talbot.
If photography doesn’t rock your boat, then maybe it’s direct descendent will – the art of the motion picture. Lacock Abbey has played a starring role in a number of films as well as TV series.
Most notably in film, Lacock Abbey was featured in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, as well The Other Boleyn Girl. TV-wise, Lacock Abbey is the home of recently aired BBC TV show Wolf Hall, and Lacock itself was used as a location for the sixth season of Downton Abbey. All of which should firmly put this place on the map of film and TV buffs!
Having spoken so much about Lacock Abbey, I of course now have to tell you that our tour didn’t actually include a tour of this property, we just got to peer at it through the gates. We were given all the above details though, although the photographer in me was keen to get inside and check out the photography exhibition.
Instead, we had a tour around Lacock instead, with Phil pointing out points of particular interest, including a 14th century tithe barn, one of the best surviving examples in the country.
On to Stonehenge
After our walk around Lacock, it was back in the bus once more for another drive, this time to the highlight of the tour – the mystical Stonehenge.
I’ve visited Stonehenge before, but it was quite some time ago, and things have changed for the better since my last visit. The road that used to hurtle traffic past the stones has been torn up and rerouted, and the visitor centre has been relocated to a site over a mile away.
Now, the magnificent stone circle is a much more pleasant visiting experience, feeling somewhat more back to nature than in years past.
It felt particularly natural on the day we visited, as the weather was quite spectacular in its ferocity. As mentioned at the beginning, there was a bitingly cold wind filled with fat raindrops, and clouds scudded low over the skies. We did have at least three seconds of sunshine in which I was able to grab an entirely unrepresentative photo of our visit, so I should be thankful for that at least.
The weather didn’t deter Phil though. He said that anyone who wasn’t keen on visiting the Stones was welcome to stay behind, but he was going to plough on regardless. And plough on he did, sharing with excitement and in detail the history of this incredible construction, with all the latest scientific theories alongside the myths and legends. Phil’s enthusiasm was infectious, and somehow everyone stayed in the group for the whole ninety minute tour around the rocks, in spite of the weather. Bravo, Phil.
After this, it was back in the bus, and our noses turned back to London, and a relaxing drive home, on which pretty much everyone grabbed a bit of shut-eye. All in all, an excellent tour experience. Now, let me share some facts and thoughts on the whole thing, to help you decide if this is going to be for you.
Some facts about doing a day trip from London with City Wonders
How long did we have at each location?
- Our trip left London at 7.30am and returned to our pick-up point at 8.30pm (13 hours!)
- We had 1.5 hours in Bath (supposed to be 2 hours but traffic was bad)
- We had 1.5 hours in Castle Comb, including lunch
- We had 30 minutes in Lacock
- We had 1.5 hours for Stonehenge
What was included on the tour?
- Transport, guide, and driver
- Excellent pub lunch
- bottled water
- guided walking tour of Bath, Castle Combe, and Lacock,
- Entry and guided tour of Stonehenge
What wasn’t included?
- Alcoholic beverages with lunch
- Entry to the Roman Baths (or any other museums in Bath)
- Tips for the guide / driver
Would you change anything?
Well, obviously, the weather!
Apart from that though, the tour really packed a lot in, whilst not feeling rushed. Personally, I would have liked a little more time in Bath to explore, and a little less time at Stonehenge. I also felt that the Roman Baths entry price should have been included, or at least, offered at a discount, as this was clearly a popular option. This is a tricky one though as on a fine day no doubt many people would take the Bath walking tour instead.
I’d also have loved to actually visit Lacock Abbey, although I appreciate that there was never going to be time for that given the schedule. Plus I understand not everyone is *that* excited about photography or Harry Potter. One to explore on a future trip methinks.
The lunch was fantastic, and it was excellent to have that included. Free WiFi on the bus would have been nice, but that could just be because I’m a blogger! Overall I’m just nit-picking – this tour was really comprehensive and the guide was excellent.
How should I prepare?
You don’t need to prepare too much. I’d advise bringing along layered clothing (British weather is not the best), ideally something wind proof, and cash for tips or any other extras.
If you’re the sort to get oddly hungry, you might want to bring snacks, but the lunch will easily see you through! You’ll also want to eat something before you start the trip, or grab a bun on arrival in Bath.
Do I Need To Take A Tour To See Stonehenge and Bath?
If you read my site a lot, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of independent travel, and I’ve put together a detailed two-week self-guided itinerary of the UK that actually includes Stonehenge, Bath and the Cotswolds.
However, not everyone has the time (or inclination!) to do that sort of a trip, so if you are in London and want to get a taste of some of the other sights in the UK, quickly and easily, then a tour like this is going to be your best option, particularly if time is tight.
Without your own transport, visiting these all these sights in a day would be logistically challenging, whereas a tour with an operator like City Wonders lets you have all the fun with none of the effort, and the small group size, friendly guide and well planned itinerary mean that we are more than happy to recommend City Wonders Tours to you guys.
Disclosure: We were guests of City Wonders on this tour, but we paid for our own ticket to the Roman Baths and covered the guide tip ourselves. All opinions remain our own – see our code of ethics for more.