The next morning, we loaded back into the car for the next leg of our Great English Roadtrip.
Tristan had expressed interest in taking the ferry across the Channel as well, so off we sailed across the Channel. Unfortunately, it was incredibly foggy, so we were unable to really enjoy the view, or see the White Cliffs of Dover until we were in the port.
The ferry itself was an enjoyable ride, though I’d suggest taking Dramamine (or any other remedy for seasickness that suits you) before embarking. We left ours in the car and suffered greatly when we discovered we couldn’t get back down to the vehicles after the ship left port.
We used the DFDS ferry line. Depending on the options selected, they provided lunch, and a quiet lounge, both of which we enjoyed. Disembarking from the ship was easy – you drove off on the appropriate side of the road… that being the left.
Driving on the left side was an adjustment, to say the least. The slow lane is on the left. You turn left; circle clockwise in traffic circles… I’m sure I raised a few eyebrows as we travelled along.
Our first English stop was Stonehenge. Though we didn’t see it up close, it was still magnificent.
Driving along, it rises from the hills like a waking beast; the sky suddenly not alone as it meets the Earth. It’s incredible how simple monstrous gray stones can exude such magic. Each of us excitedly pointed it out like school children on a field trip.
You may be wondering why we’re not up close with all of the others milling about the stones. We arrived after they stopped selling tickets. But, there was a dirt road we stole down in order to get these photos.
The mystery surrounding Stonehenge isn’t a secret. Its origin dates back 5,000 years, the stones added in the late Neolithic period. Also in the area surrounding the monument are burial mounds and other sites rife with the unknown. Many theories abound; but my favorite is a Druid Temple. Imagining linen cloaked people worshiping in the magic hour twinkles in my minds eye.
The English Heritage has excellent information if you wish to read more about this monument of the past.
Our journey to the hotel was not long. We stayed in Hampton Wick: a mile from Hampton Court Palace (which we only ended up driving by). I highly recommend this area, especially the The White Hart Hotel. While the current building was erected in 1930, the pub itself has been in operation since the 17th century. We enjoyed the friendly staff, handsome room, delicious food, and short walk to the train station that took us into London every day.
I also delighted when I found this little sign on one of my evening walks:
This Richmond girl got all in her feelings to see the name of my home town so far away. To me, this literal sign was also a metaphorical sign that I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing in my life. It also made me curious, so I took the photo back to my stepdad at the hotel.
I had no idea what the twinning of these cities meant, but Kevin had recalled some random bit of news about it (as he does). Reading more about it, Richmond, Virginia and Richmond Upon Thomas, UK appeared to have been twinned in 1980. According to the the UK website, the link between the cities has encouraged international exchanges and community. City twinning grew up out of the dust of the Second World War. The UK Office of National Statistics has a simple explanation of twinning:
Most of the twinning is with France and Germany, however the link with Richmond, Virginia, in this case, makes sense. Richmond was named after Richmond Upon Thames for its similarity in views of the James River to the views of the Thames River from Richmond Hill. It was such a lovely surprise.
London: Day One
Since we only had two days in London, I divided our sightseeing across the Thames. Day one would include places like the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and of course, the Lego Store. We also walked through Trafalgar Square, peeked into China Town from Leicester Square, and walked to Temple Church. We meandered down the Strand, Fleet Street, and past Somerset House.
So, on the morning of the first day, we walked to the nearby Hampton Wick train station and rode into Waterloo Station in London proper.
I absolutely loved using the train to get into London. It was both easy and relaxing. I was able to get a latte at the coffee stand in front of the station before getting our tickets (I’d forgotten our Oyster cards at home). The wait in the chilly, but refreshing air outside gave me energy for the day. The Southwest Line took us directly to Waterloo, which ended up being pretty central to all the activities we intended to do.
We stopped for breakfast while we waited for the London Dungeon to open. I highly recommend this cross between a haunted house, interactive play, and little history lesson. There were multiple interactive experiences based around famous events in London, like: Jack the Ripper, the Plague, and Sweeny Todd. The actors were talented and fabulous making it both a hysterical and scary experience. It was so fun!
I’m sure by now, you are all well aware of Tristan and I’s tradition of hopping on a ferris wheel when we see one, so missing the London Eye would have made for a wasted trip to London. After walking through the London Dungeon, we made our way over to the London Eye which is only feet from the Dungeon. I highly recommend spending the extra money and getting skip the line tickets as it gets crowded pretty fast. I also highly recommend using Get Your Guide for all ticket buying.
A month or so before our visit, I was excited to learn that most of the scaffolding would be removed from Big Ben. The famous London clock had been undergoing conservation construction since 2017. It also really excited me that we would be seeing it in its near original construction.
The tower was designed by Charles Barry, who also designed the Palace of Westminster. The tower was completed in 1859, however it looked a bit different than the clock tower we are used to seeing. Most notably is the the color of the dials. While we are used to seeing them as black, conservationists discovered that the original color, underneath 6 other layers of paint, was in fact Prussian blue and gold. The shields that rest above each dial have also been conserved to the architects original plan. The floral emblems on the shields represent the parts of the UK: the rose (England), the thistle (Scotland), the shamrock (Ireland), and the leek (Wales).
The tower itself is actually called The Elizabeth Tower. It’s the bell inside that’s named Big Ben, which was almost named “Royal Victoria”. The tower was also not the original clock tower that stood in it’s place. According to the UK Parliament website, a clock tower has stood in its place probably since the 1290’s. Undergoing many changes and designs over the years, the tower that now stands was erected in the late 1800’s after a fire nearly destroyed the entirety of the Palace of Westminster. This is when Charles Barry designed the tower we see today.
Sources: UK Parliament: Turning Big Ben’s clock dials blue; UK Parliament: Saving Big Ben
We also meandered by Westminster Abbey. It was closed for visitors, so we didn’t venture inside. Later, I read that it was closed for Prince Philips memorial service.
While we weren’t able to visit the inside of the abbey, it was still impressive to stand before centuries of the history that has taken place here. Since 1066, every royal coronation has taken place at Westminster Abbey. Who was the first royal? William the Conqueror.
The Abbey has also been the place of 16 royal weddings, and is the burial grounds for numerous kings and queens like Henry III, Edward I and Eleanor of Castile, and Henry V.
Next time I’m in London, I will definitely make a point to visit the inside of this beautiful abbey.
Sources: Westminster Abbey
For Tristan, a trip to a new city isn’t worth the time unless you’ve visited the Lego Store. He’s now visited stores in Brussels, Rome, and London. But, while we walked, we spotted quite a few statues and monuments (inadvertently missing the road down which is 10 Downing Street because we were so distracted by it all). There is so much to look at, take in, and marvel at in this old city.
Since I think one Lego store is quite like any other Lego store, I meandered into the tea shop next door, and then out into the square where I found the only bit of Harry Potter I would be seeing on this visit. Turning the corner, I also peered down into Chinatown and sat with ol’ William Shakespeare for a bit.
Tristan also got to pose with Darth Vader, because, why not?
We then made our way down the famous Fleet Street where we passed the imposing, but beautiful Royal Courts of Justice, numerous old pubs, and finally landed at the Temple Church.
My timing was impeccably horrible on this trip as we’d arrived an hour after they’d closed the church to visitors for a musical performance. Kevin and Tristan took a rest on a bench in the peaceful courtyard while I walked a circle around the church, and peered down alley’s and side streets.
The Temple Church is another one of those really cool, old places interspersed among the modern London. Today, most recognize the church from the book and movie The Da Vinci Code. However, this church has been around since 1118 when the Knights Templar built it as a refuge for pilgrims making their way to the Holy Land. The circular church (pictured above), was consecrated in 1185. It was built to model the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
The buildings that surround the church are now the homes of various law offices and members of the Inns of Court. Seemingly random, the habitation of barristers, judges, solicitors, and various others within the profession is in fact part of the Temple’s history.
When the fall of the Knights Templar came about in the 14th century, the Knights of Malta, a military group much like the Templars, gained ownership of the church and its surrounding property. A couple of centuries later, law professors, lawyers, and those studying law moved in around the building. The Inner Temple and the Middle Temple became the two law societies, and are first mentioned around 1388.
It’s incredible to think that this profession has held this little piece of London for such a long time! It’s a really fascinating history – if you would like to read more, visit The Inner Temple website.
Sources: The Inner Temple; Britannica.com
The Temple Church wrapped up our first day in London. We slowly made our way back to Waterloo Station for our decompressing ride back to Hampton Wick. We had a lovely dinner at a pub near our hotel, I went for my evening walk, and we dove into our beds exhausted, but satisfied.
To be continued…