Adventures in England: London, Hampshire, Avebury, Winchester, York, Whitby

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It’s hard to believe that I was in England over a month ago. My trip through Europe has been a whirlwind; a pace much faster than my preferred style of slow travel (staying in each place for a few months or more).

This post was originally published in 2010. It has since been updated for accuracy of links and content.

But my view is skewed too; in a recent email conversation with a friend who was planning an eight-day visit to Scotland, I was berated for suggesting that her trip is incredibly short. Indeed, eight days is plenty for most North Americans with limited vacation time. But in reflecting on the approaching end of my four months in Europe – and almost four years on the road in total, I couldn’t imagine a trip that is just over a week. Although my location independent lifestyle comes with some costs, I consider myself to be blessed (if not downright spoiled).

Interestingly in planning this four month trip to Europe, I still thought “whew! Four months. That’s a long time.” I figured I’d get a good sense for Europe as a whole and leave with a feeling of satisfaction.

And although I’m satisfied, I’ve also realized that I could spend a lifetime exploring Europe alone; four months has been a tease at best.

This is a long-winded way of apologizing for the disparity of time elapsed between the places I’m posting about and the places I’m actually posting from. I’m currently in France (again), and have two more countries full of adventures to share with you before I even get to the tales of my adventures here.

To that end, I’m finding with ever-mounting adventures in an increasing number of countries under my belt, things are starting to blur. But having spent three wonderful weeks in England, it’s time to let you in on some of the fun!

London

On arrival in England, I enjoyed a few days of the hospitality of a friend who I met while volunteering in Spain. She showed me her home town of London, which was a hub of life and activity.

London 1

I must admit, however – company completely aside – I found London itself to be a lacklustre experience. It lacked some of the uniform character I’d come to expect of a European city, and instead seemed to be an incongruous mash of architecture and culture. Although I love multi-culturalism (being from one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world myself), and I expected it of London, I didn’t expect such a lack of overall continuity. Maybe I’ve watched too many British television programs set in quaint little English towns, and came to expect it of London as well.

London 2

But to be fair, I was only there for a paltry three days, and didn’t have a chance to explore enough to give me a true cross-section of the place. It simply struck me as a big impersonal city, which isn’t usually my cup of tea.
Note: I returned to London a few years later, and found it to be a very different experience. Read about how London was redeemed in my eyes and why.

Hampshire

After the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, I cruised down to Hampshire for two and a half weeks of house-sitting. I realized with some degree of shock that this was the longest period of time I stayed in one place since April; a record that will remain unbroken for the next undeterminable period of time in my full-time traveling life. Eek!

The house-sitting (and dog-sitting) gig was great, and a chance to experience a slice of daily life in Hampshire, a beautiful spot in the English countryside. Having my visiting Mum as company for the duration was a thrill too, as it gave us a chance to cook some great meals, watch lots of DVDs, go for long walks, tour the area, and generally enjoy each other’s company.

Avebury

One of the day-trips Mum and I took was to Avebury, where there is an impressive (and impressively accessible) ancient stone circle. Initially we were headed for the iconic Stonehenge, but a few insiders’ recommendations led us to Avebury instead, where we could get up close and personal with the stones, instead of paying an admission fee to remain at some distance from them.

Avebury stone circle
stone circle

These stones surround the town of Avebury, and there is a palpable energy and aura to the place. Apparently the Avebury area is noted to be the happiest place in the UK. Although I didn’t feel an overwhelming urge to sing and dance in the streets, I did indeed feel a great sense of satisfaction for having seen – and touched – such a curious part of history.

Winchester

A friend from London who spent some time living in Winchester stopped by our Hampshire digs to take us to his old home town. Winchester was much more along the lines of what I (unrealistically) expected of London; a charming town with a smooth continuity to the architecture, beautifully manicured gardens, and – of course – a stunning cathedral.

Winchester cathedral
Winchester Cathedral inside

I’m not much of a cathedral person, but I must admit that with our knowledgeable guide, it was a pleasure to peruse it and glean some interesting facts about its history. Enjoying “bangers at the bar” at the local pub (more on that in an upcoming post) was a special treat, after walking along the enchanting streets.

the streets of Winchester

York

After leaving Hampshire and saying goodbye to my Mum (for the next year or so, until I visit Canada again – probably next summer), I hopped on the train to the city of York to crash on the couch of a fellow travel writer who I met online and developed a rapport with over some hilarious Twitter conversations.

York
York city streets

Being a medieval walled city, York further fulfilled my expectations and desires of England, in addition to filling my camera with great shots. For the three days I was there, we walked countless kilometers, sipped Yorkshire cream tea at Betty’s Tearooms (an institution in its own rite), ate Yorkshire pudding (I mean, how can you not – it’s York!), and soaked in the history, energy, and (uncharacteristic) sunshine.

York 2
Yorkshire tea...in York!

Whitby

Whitby was a day-trip from York, being a two hour bus ride that is well worth the £12 and scenic journey over the heather-filled moors of northern England. It’s a picturesque seaside town with lots of history, scenic views, charming architecture, and a historical brush with Dracula.

Whitby's seaside
Whitby pier

It was again a destination filling my tummy with great food, my camera with great shots, and my walking shoes with sand. A good day was had by all.

tide's out in Whitby
Dracula's weather-beaten haunt

I must (quietly, yet in a somewhat masochistically public way) admit that England was not on my initial list of places to visit (please don’t hate me, English readers!), as it didn’t seem to me to be the cultural or scenic experience I was aiming for. (Then again, neither was Hawaii, which pleasantly surprised me). In fact, maybe I just felt too much at home in England…with an understanding of the language and culture that made me almost too comfortable – for a traveler. I had many of the comforts and familiarity of “home”, without actually being home. It was a tad surreal.

So although I thoroughly enjoyed my time in England, it didn’t grab me in the way I was grabbed by Spain or France or even New Zealand. Scotland and Ireland however (which you can read about by clicking the links here), held more appeal for me, and piqued my interest in returning to this neck of the woods. And when I eventually return, I hope to visit England again, and to spend more time discovering the place, in the style that I normally like to travel: slowly.

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14 thoughts on “Adventures in England: London, Hampshire, Avebury, Winchester, York, Whitby”

  1. Hah! Well, I can recommend against Slow Travel in this case – because if you wander round England slowly, you fall asleep. It’s that kind of place….

    I love England. Hey, I’m English, of course I do. But past the required patriotic flag-waving, I *do* love England.

    But it’s often…well…not terribly exciting.

    The geography is manageable, barring the odd burst of exciting terrain in places like the Lake District or the Pennines or Cornwall. The land is well-kept and well-used. The inhabitants enjoy a relatively high standard of living, and (here’s an important thing for travel nuts) English people are obsessed with owning their own houses. Despite property prices being 10%-30% comparatively higher than with its European neighbours, England is a land of property-ladder climbers. This affects the national consciousness. Long-term travellers are people with a screw loose. “You don’t have a *home*? Oh hell. Look, here’s a pound. Get yourself a cup of tea.”

    We want for little, other than a place to settle down.

    For all these reasons, it’s a great place to live if you want a quiet, sedentary life.

    And a not-so-great one if you don’t.

    (MASSIVE generalism there – but I stand by it).

    I reckon the best way to truly experience England isn’t to let England decide your itinerary. (That way, you’ll end up queueing, either figuratively or literally). No – the way to do it is to force yourself upon England – to make up some crazyass travel plan packed full of goals, and to fling yourself at it – either packed full of geography, so you’re forever moving onwards, or packed full socially.

    You do realise that next time you come to England, we’re walking coast to coast? 100 miles, getting savaged by cows and sheep and rained on so hard it draws blood.

    Bring a tent.

    (T’was lovely having you here in York, Nora).

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  2. Oh – and Scotland?

    A handsome, wild, savage beastie. I love it fiercely. (Again, patriotism there: I’m half Scottish). Glad you do too. 🙂

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  3. Hi, Nora, hope you enjoyed the bread& butter pudding! I’m afraid England doesn’t do urban very well, the best of it is in the sticks, mainland Europe is much better at urban living, while England does the rolling farmland with historic monuments and quaint villages rather better!

    Hope you manged to squeeze Orkney into your Scots itinerary, if you missed it – come back! you missed one of the best bits ;( Love your pics of Avebury – one of my favourite places.

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  4. @Kate – Okay, so maybe “berated” is a little harsh…allow me a little writer’s licensing, huh? 🙂

    @Mikeachim – I think the property-owning phenomenon is more widespread than just England..it’s an epidemic that plagues North America too! (Seriously though, it is a great way to accumulate equity and wealth…if it’s done properly and doesn’t involve over-extensions…but that’s another article – perhaps blog – entirely).

    100 mile hike, huh? Sweet! I’m in.

    @Michele – Indeed I did enjoy the B&B pudding! And yes I agree…smaller towns and cities is where I had the most fun.
    I didn’t manage to visit Orkney…so I will have to go back! (Post on Scotland is coming up shortly).

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  5. Sounds like a hugely fun whirlwind you’ve got going on there! I’m with you – settling in rather than ripping through is the way I like to travel too, but…then again, so many cool things you get to see and do if you move faster. I didn’t know York was a walled Medieval city. Maybe I’ll have to return to England some day.

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  6. @Sabina – York was one of the highlights of my trip through England, to be sure. One of the things I try to do while traveling is not to set too many expectations, and in so doing to allow every new destination to take me by surprise in whatever way that it does. As such, York was a lovely “discovery” for me! (And it helps that I had an awesome guide….)

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  7. Hello,

    Just read your case study over on vagabonding. Seeing your York and Winchester photos brings back memories. I lived in Winchester for four years and used to spend quite a bit of time in York many years back. Great location as are the other areas you mentioned.

    I’m going to subscribe to your blog in a min.

    All the best

    Andrew

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  8. There’s no need to be shy, Nora. You were talking about the beauty of your host in York rather than York itself, weren’t you? Bless you. And indeed, who could blame you?

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  9. @Andrew – Welcome! I really enjoyed my time in York, and just the other day was professing its beauty. Cheers!

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  10. Great blog! Discovered it while googling ‘pub culture in England.’

    Your words re: London really struck me – this is EXACTLY how I felt when I visited a few years ago. There was no distinct feel to the city the way you get with Paris, Madrid, NYC, Moscow and other biggies. Diversity is one thing but cacophony is entirely different. Thanks for putting my thoughts into words!

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