We recently had the opportunity to visit the lovely seaside city of Bournemouth for the weekend.
Actually, we’d intended to visit here for a long time. We have super lovely and creative friends from the Gold Coast who lived and worked here for a few years and loved it (shout out to Lou and Iain from P’s in a Pod); and as Aussies, we are always on the lookout for a ‘real’ beach.
As far as seaside cities here go, I’d describe Bournemouth as being a contemporary destination, conveniently located just two hours’ train ride from London; the beach is actually beautiful, there’s a pier, and plenty of bars, restaurants, serene hotels and accommodation to keep you happy for a sunny weekend escape.
We appreciated how the city has been designed – there’s a central mall with shopping – at the top of that is a spot called ‘the triangle’ that boasts some nice bars and eateries like Smokin’ Aces and Koh Thai. A wonderful park and landscaped garden area (including mini golf) leads explorers through the town towards the beach and Bournemouth Wheel. Either way along the beach you can wander the promenade and discover ice-cream, coffee, cocktails and markets. Truly charming.
Broadstairs is part of the Thanet District in Kent, which includes two other major settlements, Margate and Ramsgate, that are both served by trains coming in and out of London.
It’s possible to walk or hike along the coast (being mindful of tide times), to enjoy the seven bays of Broadstairs.
If you take a look at a map, you’ll see that from the beach at Broadstairs you can wander left and you’ll come across Stone Bay, Joss Gap, Kingsgate Bay and Botany Bay before eventually coming into Margate.
To the right, you’ll discover Viking Bay, Louisa Bay and Dumpton Gap.
Actually, further along the coast in this direction you would come to Dover, which means directly across the water is France!
The Viking Coastal Path is a route you can walk along in either direction.
There are plenty of signposts showing where you are and also explaining the history of the bays, including smuggling, wartime and shipwreck stories.
Botany Bay, UK
We were destined for Botany Bay this particular weekend.
It took our fancy because it’s of the same name as somewhere very significant in our Australia’s own history; plus the spectacular chalky cliffs were something we wanted to view for ourselves.
Next time we visit, we will head to Ramsgate because the visitor information guide said there are really nice bars and facilities along the waterfront… my interest is piqued.
The scenery here is very ‘white cliffs of Dover’ style; dramatic and quintessentially English.
The beaches are real, so you can get sand between your toes, happy dogs can run, bark and play; and the air is crisp and fresh. Just what we all need to clear the mind and free the spirit.
Because we only had a few hours scheduled for our day trip to Kent, we didn’t end up walking from Broadstairs to Botany Bay.
Under normal circumstances this would take an hour, but we didn’t have the time to spare so jumped in a cab.
We want to give a shout-out to Broadstairs Taxis because the drivers who helped us were really friendly and informative.
Also, they sent a text to our phone to let us know how far away they were – all round good service. And, between one destination to another it was only £5.
Picture perfect days out in Kent
Botany Bay and neighbouring Kingsgate offer picturesque views on beautiful days out in Kent, like the one above.
I spotted a wedding shoot taking place on a cliff-top and a music video being shot beneath; a lone wind-surfer enjoying time on the waves and the beaches were pretty and rugged, winding around the coast.
We were rugged up but the visit here was a chance to satisfy a creative longing to video and photograph this country we’ve come to love so much.
Of course, it came time to eat, and we had our sights set on the Botany Bay Hotel, which offers pub-like dining in fine surrounds opposite the ocean at Botany Bay.
The place is really dog friendly (yay!) and quite well priced.
If you’re there as we were for lunch, you can’t book, but evening you can reserve a table.
You can stay in the hotel too, which is perfectly positioned for anyone who wants to spend more time playing, hiking, writing, photographing or simply being mindful by the sea.
After a big meal (and maybe a beer), you can walk off any indulgence by heading around the Viking Trail just ten minutes to Kingsgate Bay.
You’ll pass a golf range and spot the extremely grand Kingsgate Castle on the cliff overlooking the ocean (pictured above).
It’s now filled with apartments inside but looks really cool from the outside, and views include the sea doorway and white cliffs as pictured above.
If you’re thirsty after this coastal expedition (wandering along the top of the cliffs or walking down to the sea front below), you can pop into Captain Digby Tavern, another cliff-top pub.
Out and about on a day trip in Kent
Life certainly is better at the beach, and our day trip to Kent included breathing in the fresh ocean air, patting plenty of puppies, enjoying a pub lunch with a view and feasting on the scenery this coastline offers.
We can’t wait to get back this way, and would highly recommend the easy trip if you want to experience the English seaside.
What’s it like to be marooned in the West Midlands? We stumbled across the town of Rugby when searching for ideas on days out in Warwickshire. Have a look around in our vlog, and some itinerary highlights below.
Days out in Warwickshire – travel to Rugby, England
From the church to the pub
Not necessarily as dodgy as it sounds!
Yesterday morning as we looked at our options for upcoming days out in Warwickshire, we considered the reasons why we wanted to find out more about Rugby.
As we were driving by our favourite new watering hole, The Bull Inn, we enthusiastically started a conversation with our cabbie – they’re always great for advice, right? He of course happily obliged, and started a yarn about how he’d lived at that very pub growing up.
At that time (about 50 years ago), he said the place – Rugby and Warwickshirewas – was very different.
His family lived above; the pub didn’t serve food, but was designed as a labyrinth of little spaces that were nick-named ‘snugs’, so you could snuggle up to others when it was chilly.
He told us of a secret tunnel that runs underground from the pub to St Mary’s Church across the road. It’s an old tunnel, now closed off but once used by the priests for safe passage.
He said that often in England you’ll find (or would have before churches were burned down or dismantled over the years) churches and pubs right next door to each other. Apparently this was so the church labourers had somewhere to go at the end of a long day.
I’m having a hard time verifying this, so if you have more detail on the history of this set-up in villages across England, please let me know in the comments.
He also shared that apparently soccer (football) started in these parts, as a game which could go on for days and with the aim of being the first team to get the ball from one church to another. Then they’d go to the pub.
Seems that everything begins at church and ends at the pub – in the most respectful and affectionate of ways, of course.
Best laid plans
And that sets the tone of our time in Rugby, a place that’s full of stories and story-tellers, proving that sometimes the best-laid plans aren’t what’s best for you.
It was from our base in Rugby that we had planned to hire a car and set off for a few days out in Warwickshire.
We would also do the few-hour round trip to visit Cotswold hotspots including Broadway, Chipping Campden, Bibury and Moreton-in-Marsh.
All was going along just fine. We checked into our utterly gorgeous little Airbnb country escape overlooking the countryside, complete with excellent pub and quaint main street just on our doorstep.
But when Saturday arrived, it seemed we were not meant to get to the Cotswolds – between several transport mix-ups in the space of a couple of hours, the illusive location of the car hire company, a lengthy wait to secure a pre-booked vehicle when we finally found the car hire place.
Then we realised mid key hand-over that there was no way to return it until after the long weekend – we ended up with no choice other than to explore present surroundings. Our days out in Warwickshire turned into a focus on one little town, but we were determined to make the best of it.
Cooper was a bit disappointed because after a couple of years not being behind a wheel (we only use public transport in London), he was excited about driving.
But, on a promise from me that we’d come back to explore lands lost to us on this trip, and the reminder we were standing in the home of the game they play in heaven (apparently), his cheerful demeanour returned.
To be honest all the diversions that kept pushing us further from our original goal did have me wondering if it was actually all for the best.
As it turned out, the weather was beyond terrible for most of the weekend, so any photos we had hoped to Instagram were as good as non-existent either way.
Rugby is a market town on the river Avon, positioned in the middle of the country on a train line between London Euston and Birmingham.
It’s quite big with all the amenities you want and need on a trip away including plenty to do, see, eat and buy (‘fun shopping’, I call it).
Under normal circumstances when you have access to a car, Rugby is a great base to explore from, because it’s central to a range of wonderful cities and villages across Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire including the Cotswolds, enchanting National Trustsites, and even top tourist attractions like Blenheim Palace, Oxford University and ‘Shakespeare’s land’ around Stratford upon Avon.
Why did it turn out to be just fine to be marooned in the West Midlands though?
7 reasons why you should visit Rugby in England
What’s in a name?
Whether you’re a fan of sports or not, you can’t help but be a little impressed by the grounds at the Rugby school.
One of the region’s most significant events was the founding of the school in 1567 thanks to Lawrence Sheriff, a grocer who upon his death left money to set up an educational institution for local boys.
Lawrence’s significant legacy in these parts and his name is all over streets, pubs and other memorials.
Of course, everyone associates this place with Sir William Web Ellis, who in 1823 picked up the ball and ran with it!
Legend has it, this was the beginning of the game of rugby as we know it. Indeed, during the World Cup tournament, teams play to take home the trophy that bears his name.
Most of the year, you can stand on the spectacular field where this all happened, and where lucky young students have the chance to be educated in one of the most well respected schools in the country.
Informative tours are usually available too, and there are excellent museums all over town where you can learn about how this place has influenced not just the game of rugby, but most other ball games we know and enjoy today.
A friendly cab driver pointed out this most eclectic place: part vegetarian café, part homewares store and quirky gift shop – described to us as, ‘a place you just have to visit’, we totally agree!
Cooper even vouches for the yummy vegetarian fare on offer and we recommend it for a hearty, good-value lunch.
Summersault is located in the centre of town, off the main mall or street opposite the Rugby school.
Rugby proves to be a neat, pretty town, sprinkled with interesting architecture dating from medieval times through to the past hundred or so years.
The Rugby school owns a large amount of land where stately buildings stand and school staff reside.
A number of other colleges plus many old churches steeped in history are all over the city.
We found that no matter what the religion, if the house was open, we were welcomed in to enjoy a respectful wander around.
Particularly interesting (with a particularly lovely community) was Saint Marie’s where we met Fr David Tobin who enthusiastically shared stories about the rich history of the establishment and its founding family, the Hibberts.
Market town charm
There’s plenty to see and do here, and the charm is magnified when you realise actually how much the town has contributed to contemporary life as we know it.
I think pretty much everyone we met in Rugby were helpful, kind and friendly to us.
From the cab drivers (we ended up meeting a number of them because we were based out of town so relied on their service while visiting) to dog owners, publicans, our Airbnb hosts and everyone in between, we found the locals to be generous with their time, stories and hospitality.
In fact, it was thanks to their openness that we learned about little snippets of the area’s history and about things to do for fun.
Oh, and they let us pat their dogs too. That’s always nice!
Special thanks to Wilmer the Weimaraner puppy’s mum, Riley the sheepdog’s dad and Polly the 9-month-old-pup’s owner!
Our ‘local’ (as in, five minutes’ walk from our accommodation) was called The Bull Inn.
As with any place in England, there are public houses on just about every corner.
Rugby is no exception, and the city boasts a number of cool establishments with rich histories attached to their walls.
Our favourite though, was The Bull Inn, so it’s a good thing we ended up staying near it.
The food, vibe and space (including a huge outdoor area for when the weather is nice) were all terrific and we wish there was something like it near us in London!
A country escape
The highlight of this trip ended up being the accommodation, which was a lovely little space overlooking the countryside in Clifton upon Dunsmore which is on the outskirts of Rugby.
We chilled out, wandered to the pub, cooked some nice dinners and listened to the rain in a different way than you do in the city – almost reminiscent of the summer rains that fall in the wet season over our home in north Queensland.
If you’re seeking a country escape that still has all the conveniences of city life on your doorstep, then this is a perfect option.
As we discovered, you’ll need a car for days out in Warwickshire. In Rugby, walking or riding a bike around is easy.
If you’re based a little out of town as we were, cabs are easy to catch or call and are not very expensive. It’s about £5 to anywhere.
The central train station is where you’ll end up if you’re moving on from the district.
There is also a local bus service which would be worthwhile using if you were in town for longer. We’d suggest a car is a good idea though, if possible.
Bath is the epitome of Georgian elegance and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of the year. It’s a pleasurable day trip from London (take Great Western Rail from Paddington); or stay a night or two and truly indulge in all the romantic things to do in Bath!
Personally, I love Bath because it’s easy to get around but has all the perks of a city like shopping, coffee, plenty to see and do. Bath is rich in history – the buildings tell many lifetimes worth of tales, dating back to the Romans right through to Jane Austen, and even the birth of Royal Mail. And, aside from anything else, the city is strikingly beautiful.
It’s one for the romantics, for sure – a very special place, like York (which you also must visit). Here are seven of our sweetest ideas for you to explore…
7 romantic things to do in Bath, England
Bath Abbey Tower Tour
Bath Abbey is the divine structure that makes for a perfect meeting spot in the town centre. It is an utterly surprising find as you’re wandering the old streets, and you’ll have your phone in hand snapping pictures before you even realise what you’re doing!
Indulge in some people watching in the square, and when you’ve gathered your breath, climb to the top for a bird’s eye view of the area.
If this idea takes your fancy, you can book exclusive personalised tours which take place out of hours. Watch the sun set over this uniquely lovely place, away from the tourist crowds. More at bathabbey.org/towertours.
Stroll along the Gravel Walk
This is fine for all, but Austen fans will especially rejoice because it is the setting of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth’s proposal in Persuasion.
Continue your wander through to Royal Victoria Park for a picnic, and wind up your exploration in the lovely woodland of the Botanical Gardens.
Be mindful after dark though, for although it might seem pretty at dusk it is said that a number of Bath’s former residents often also wander here. Particularly notable is a white haired man who will appear before you on the Gravel Walk, only to vanish back into the night. Spooky, although perhaps a romantic pursuit for the ghost-hunters (like me) among you…
Take to nature – canal ride, row boat or horse drawn carriage ride
As you step off the train into the city of Bath, you’ll spot signs for visitor information centres. Drop in and enquire about one of the unique opportunities to interact with nature.
Back in town, we suggest skipping the cab line and instead take a horse drawn carriage ride around the city, just like in Austen’s romantic age. Be enchanted as you pass by grand spaces like the Royal Crescent, Royal Victoria Park and The Circus. Courtyard Carriages will make it happen.
Stay overnight in a romantic hotel!
Bath is brimming with excellent accommodation options for all budgets. If you’re willing to splash out for a special occasion and take full advantage of this city’s status as a centre for romance, this one looks nice – the Royal Crescent Hotel & Spa. It’s centrally located with sublime views of the city! We’ve not stayed here, but sure would like to. Seems so very Austen-esque.
Another decadent property I spotted on our travels was Bath Spa Hotel, a five star stay overlooking the breathtaking Bath landscape.
Jane Austen festival in September
Yes, yes and yes!
Indulge in regal splendour – performances, balls, workshops, promenades, fairs, lunches, breakfasts (and the odd Mr Darcy sprinkled around town for good measure)…
There are even short tours of the surrounding area on offer so you can get your entire literary and adventure fix with the least amount of effort. If you’re a fan of the author, don’t miss visiting in September. More at janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.
Note: there’s a plethora of Austen experiences open all year round too if you can’t make it in spring.
Thermae Bath Spa
Bath is of course famed for its ancient baths and healing waters, and now thanks to Thermae, we can all take a dip.
After you’ve explored the interesting old ruins, step it up to contemporary times in an utterly indulgent and romantic manner. Thermae now boasts a sensational rooftop pool with sweeping city views. There’s plenty of other treatments you can enjoy too – the best of modern pleasures and old world lush blended into a sublime chance to unwind and feel the love.
Country walks and quaint villages
When we visited Bath recently, we actually took the Hop on Hop off bus tour, which features two routes through Bath. One travels around the city and explains the local history, and the other highlights the outskirts upon the hilltops overlooking the city’s skyline. This is an excellent way to get your bearings in the city. Helpful too, because Bath is very hilly so it’s easy to get tired making your way around. An option like this makes it simpler to identify the places you might like to go back to, and the skyline journey in particular showcases some lovely walks.
Suggested places to visit include the ‘prettiest village in England’, Castle Combe (accessible from Bath), Kennet and Avon canals which are some of the loveliest waterways working their way through England. The tour guide also pointed out walks you can try nearby to stops on the tour’s itinerary such as around Middle Hill Lodge.
Words can’t describe how lovely it is here, although many writers have attempted to do so throughout history. Why not visit and see for yourself? You may find the Visit Bath website useful, and book your train tickets in advance for the best deal, Trainline.
If you’ve found this helpful or have a tip to add, please let us know in the comments.
Rolling green hills, pretty ponds, and sheep calmly grazing across vast expanses of English countryside − it was all very dreamy, as we headed towards the filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle.
We’d been driving along a quiet winding road for a while and wondered where it was.
“If you tilt your head to the left, Miss, just over the tops of those trees, you’ll see it in a moment,” chimed the jolly cab driver I’d met just 15 minutes ago in the nearby village of Newbury.
Filming location of Downton Abbey, Highclere Castle
As he spoke, indeed, it appeared! How amazing – Downton Abbey, or in real life, Highclere Castle – a very accessible day trip from London.
I couldn’t help the welling of excitement as we rounded the corner past more manicured greenery.
All of a sudden, England’s most famous stately home, Highclere Castle arose, grand as ever.
It reminded me of the excitement of when we had the chance to explore historical Blencowe Hall (part of my heritage and a stately place up in the north of England)!
It was just like in one of the world’s most-watched series’, Downton Abbey (sadly, final season aired in 2016, but as of an update to this blog, a film was released late 2019.
Exploring Highclere Castle (‘Downton Abbey’)
You too can play out your Crawley family fantasies by visiting the filming location of Downton Abbey, as do thousands of others who visit annually during the lavish property’s open periods (usually UK’s spring/summer).
It’s an opportunity to step back into another world altogether.
The library is magnificent, housing over 5000 classic editions; pause a moment in the posh dining room and ballroom (where many a romantic Downton moment has been stolen), and the bedrooms (there’s over 50!).
When Downton filming is done, Highclere hosts expensive events and celebrity weddings.
It’s home to Lord and Lady Carnarvon, and the property has been in the Carnarvon family for over 300 years.
Back in its heyday, an army of 60 servants catered to the Carnarvons’ every desire. However, it costs around $1 million to maintain such a stately home these days, with just 20 full time staff.
Getting from London to Highclere Castle
It’s an easy day trip − around an hour’s train ride from Paddington to the quaint town of Newbury, then a friendly cab driver will ferry you to Downton… er, I mean, Highclere (but don’t worry if you get it wrong, they’re used to it!).
Good news for those fretting over the end of our favourite show or indeed excited for the new film – you can still make a pilgrimage here and enjoy ever more of England’s charms. Book your tickets here
Are you a Downton Abbely fan too? Drop me a line in the comments!
You wouldn’t expect the topic ‘taking the train from London to Edinburgh’ to come up as a dinner party topic, but for us recently it did! I was enjoying a nice chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc over dinner with friends (don’t you love the bottles with twist tops?!).
I mentioned excitedly as I emptied the last of the contents (a bottle doesn’t go far between four people), that I was travelling on the train from London to Edinburgh the following week. Anyone who has been to Scotland will enthusiastically agree it’s a beautiful, friendly country with a long history. Scotland offers amazing scenery, history and filming locations, castles, lochs and even a monster!
Suddenly I was asked what I thought to be a bizarre question, “why are you taking the train?”
…”Isn’t the plane much faster?”
This is when the conversation previously focusing on sport, politics, work and the usual banter steered towards the new topic of train travel. Each guest explained – with enthusiasm – their experiences travelling around the UK on the world’s oldest railway system.
After emptying the contents of a second bottle of Australia’s finest, I felt inspired, excited and a little curious by the prospect of travel on the train from London to Edinburgh (between four and five hours).
7 awesome reasons to travel on the train from London to Edinburgh
Unlike airports which are located anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes from a city, most major train stations are located in the centre of the city.
Avoid rush-hour traffic and an expensive taxi ride. I didn’t feel stressed travelling to the train station but I always have a small sense of anxiety when I travel to an airport.
Our travel from London to Edinburgh by train commenced at the centrally-located and well appointed King’s Cross station in London.
What I really like about train travel is that you don’t have to arrive several hours before departure and then wait in a long security line.
When I arrived at King’s Cross 30 minutes before departure, everyone was relaxed, no one was rushing and I didn’t encounter any impatient passengers pushing and shoving waiting for the gates to open. No exorbitant prices for food and drinks either. I grabbed a latte, checked from which platform my train was departing, visited a few shops and even had a chance to explore the Harry Potter exhibit (as one does).
Baggage and expenses
We’ve all experienced that anxiety about having to pay excess baggage fees, and that sheepish feeling of guilt when you know your bags are flirting with being slightly overweight.
Thankfully, conductors who I found friendly and helpful, didn’t even check how many bags I had or more importantly how much they weighed. No angry and surprised passengers standing helplessly when staff remove bags and demand a fee.
On the price side, if you’re familiar with the UK, you’ll know there are of course discount airfare options, but, did you know you can score a train ticket travelling from London to Edinburgh for as little as £25 if you book in advance? Try looking up fares on Trainline.
Comfort and relaxation
My core complaint when flying is the lack of leg room and being boxed-in amongst strangers. On trains there are seats in pairs, or sets of four (two either side), and some with the option of a table in the middle.
Plug a laptop in, catch up on blogging (or the latest episode of Arrow…; read, write, daydream).
Did I mention you don’t have to wear a seat belt and there’s no line for the toilet!? Winning!
Trains can be a little bumpy in a soothing way (like being rocked to sleep); nothing like when you hit turbulence and fear grips your body.
The real bonus – scenery
Trains offer the chance to be engaged by spectacular scenery, unlike planes where, if you’re lucky, you’ll catch a glimpse of a landmark during take-off or landing. I love watching in wonder the rolling green fields, lazy grazing farm animals, charming villages and historical castles standing proud. A kaleidoscope of images, and the landscape of the United Kingdom is really so special, particularly when you travel from London to Edinburgh by train.
The time really does fly by, because the adventure is a travel experience in itself, rather than feeling like a ‘drag’.
Meeting travellers and making friends
A cafeteria and bar offering all the essentials was positioned up the back of my train. Making my way to this oasis felt a bit like imitating a trapeze artist on rope, but, my reward for a delicate balancing act, was that I found this spot to be a great place to meet fellow travellers. We shared tips and a few jokes over a cold beverage.
That said, if you prefer to enjoy a little quiet time, staying in your seat is a perfectly convenient option too, because a trolley of hot and cold delights makes its way through the carriages at intervals through the journey.
An important fact, trains are less damaging to the environment and more energy efficient. Trains require half the energy per passenger per mile than air travel. Anything that is great for the environment is a winner in my books.
Sure, we all live active, busy lives and travelling by plane is less time consuming, but there comes a time when we must all stop, relax and smell the roses, so to speak.
I’m discovering train travel in the UK is the chance to experience real travel adventure; you can score tickets at low prices, and view the world while travelling comfortably. The time really does fly by (no pun intended). Definitely worth considering when you’re in our neck of the woods.
Welcome to Travel Live learn, where we are passionate about living a life full of great adventures. We are Sarah + Cooper, and here we share our advice and stories about expat living in the UK; pet and house sitting around the world; wellness travel and creative living, no matter where on the planet you are. We have worked in media, communication and creative roles for 20 years, and have spent over 10 years living and working abroad. We hope you find value in our content. Please do connect by leaving a comment or find us on social media.