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From London to the beach at Whitstable

From London to the beach at Whitstable

If the sun comes out we want for nothing more than to head to the seaside, and the beach at Whitstable is absolutely accessible by train from London to Whitstable for a day trip or weekend.

Whitstable is a quaint seaside destination in Kent. The train London to Whitstable is just over an hour’s ride from St Pancras (at Kings Cross).

Escape to the beach at Whitstable

A Whitstable day trip on the train from London means you can enjoy quirky shopping, seafood aplenty, oysters, oysters, oysters… and best of all, there are dogs everywhere!

Kent is a beautiful and accessible destination from London.

We love it because it’s easy to get to the beach in around an hour; the scenery, energy and vibe of similar beach-side destinations like Broadstairs and Botany Bay means that just one day away from the big city energises you! Well worth the time.

For those seeking swimming opportunities, do your research – the beach at Whitstable is great for paddling and water sports, as well as people watching and lounging about.

It’s not the sandiest of beaches, from what we saw, but it has the best of any seaside experience.

Beat the crowds on your Kent beach day trip

Our major travel tip is be to go early, because if you strike a lovely day, by around midday this little town (and others like it) is packed.

Whitstable is famous for its an annual mid-year Oyster festival.

To give you some idea of how popular this is, the town’s is population is around 32,000 and during this festival attracts an additional 40,000!

Take a look around at our Whitstable beach and seaside escape.

Hopefully you’ll be inspired to book your train from London to Whitstable next time the sun is out.


Got questions about travel in and around London? Or your own travel tips? Let us know in the comments… 


Mystery and the Magna Carta

Mystery and the Magna Carta

Today’s last Back Roads Touring ‘Heart of England’ adventure was one we were all excited about. We set off early from Bath and headed out across the Salisbury Plain towards mysterious Stonehenge. Dating back to 3100 BC and a time when there were only about 20,000 people in Britain, there are many theories and debates surrounding just how and why this stone circle was built. One of the few things known for sure is that we had begun to master agricultural skills at the time when Stonehenge was constructed. Evidence strongly suggests the stone circle functioned as a calendar of sorts, to help determine the best time to reap and sow the land. It is quite incredible to witness the precision of the stone cuttings, given that they would have been designed using only tools available in the stone age.

Interested in more? Here’s a short clip from the BBC on the building of Stonehenge:


The site is a spectacle to behold, and we were fortunate that the sun was shining on the famous scene for us this morning. Once we’d all wandered around the site – inspecting it as directed by our handy audio guides – we left the growing crowds behind, driving not too far down the road to the pretty city of Salisbury.


This city is particularly famous for its cathedral – evidently the most painted of all the cathedrals by artists of the 19th century. Its iconic spire is the tallest in Britain, and the cathedral is home to one of only a few original copies of the Magna Carta. Just imagine, what must it have been like nearly 1000 years ago when some of these cathedrals were being built? Some towns would have even sprung up because of the work! Has anyone seen or read Pillars of the Earth?

It’s a particularly interesting and historical stop on the tour, and aside from the cathedral, Salisbury itself also boasts numerous other amazing museums, old churches and buildings to explore if time permits.


Our final stop of the tour was Windsor Castle. This particular attraction actually ended up being one of the key highlights of the trip for me and several others in our group. Preferred residence of the Queen, and a place where the royal family has been residing for many many years, Windsor Castle is brimming with spectacular rooms, relics, art, photographs, weapons, memorials and history that has been a long time in the making.

Unfortunately the Queen wasn’t there to greet us this time around – evidently her car was stuck in mud on the way back from Wales (it has been raining a lot here this week)! Ideally take at least a day to navigate the whole property properly, especially if royal history interests you. I was particularly fascinated by St George’s Chapel, a beautiful gothic structure that still regularly hosts religious ceremonies but is the burial place for many of England’s past leaders including Henry VIII who lies beside his ‘favourite’ wife and mother of his only male heir, Jane Seymour. The other highlight was Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House – spectacular, vast and apparently the largest dolls’ house in the world; and I quite enjoyed seeing a special photographic exhibition presented to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee this year.

Overall this journey was fun, interesting and absolutely highly recommended. Thanks to Back Roads Touring UK, Escape Travel Australia, and our terrific guide for this particular trek, VJ, for a truly enjoyable four-day adventure through England’s historical heartland.



WHERE: Stonehenge, Salisbury, Windsor Castle.

HOW: Back Roads Touring UK and Escape Travel Australia.

STAYED: Lancaster Gate Hotel, London.


The great British Bath

The great British Bath

Although there was a period in British history where bathing was deemed bad for the health (and consequently a freshen-up was only scheduled for once or twice a year), there are also important sections of history where a bath was so important that a whole city emerged because of it!

Today’s road trip to Bath included a stop-off at the picture-perfect town of Bourton-on-the-Water, dubbed ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’ – an immaculate little place that continues to demonstrate how inspiringly beautiful England really is.


We also explored a very interesting old National Trust property ‘800 years in the making’, Lacock Abbey and the Fox Talbot Museum.


Located in rural Wiltshire, Lacock village and its Abbey have been featured in numerous film and television productions including Harry Potter, The Other Boleyn Girl, Pride & Prejudice and many more. There are no street lights or antennas here, so the town is easily transformed into a film set for period pieces. The Abbey was originally settled by nuns in the 1200’s. It’s described as being a ‘quirky country house of various architectural styles’, complete with medieval rooms and a cloister court. Another great piece of history associated with this place is the fact that a former resident of Lacock, William Henry ‘Fox Talbot’, is credited with inventing photography, and a museum celebrating this is located in the Abbey.


Bath is a highlight of any trip throughout England. It’s a stunning little city (and a designated World Heritage Site) that really made its mark during the elegant Georgian age when none other than famous author, Jane Austen, resided here. Of course, people were travelling to Bath well before Georgian times. As legend has it, back in the 860s BC, King Bladud – once a Prince struck down with leprosy and forced to leave his home in disguise and take up a job as a swineherd in a regional part of the country – discovered waters that healed him. More on the legend HERE, however it’s these origins that set Bath on the map. So much so that the Romans decided they wanted in on this these ‘magical healing waters’, and the rest, as they say, is history. Roman architecture (or its influence) is seen everywhere in Bath and certainly adds to the city’s charm and intrigue. The original Roman Baths are still the city’s biggest attraction.


Ideally a few days are required to explore Bath properly – beautiful Bath Abbey (one of the last great medieval churches, begun around 1499, completed 1611), Jane Austen Centre, Assembly Rooms, Fashion Museum, gardens, more museums – attractions old and new. Bath certainly offers something for everyone. It’s a romantic and remarkable mix of ancient and modern history, as well as the very best contemporary dining, coffee, shopping and luxury options. We stayed in the heart of the city at the Abbey Hotel which is ideally situated for exploring on foot (which, by the way, is very easy to do – Bath is a small walking city, however there are numerous tours including the popular ‘red bus hop-on-hop-off option for those daunted by all the hills here).

FUN FACT: Yesterday we all discovered (from a co-traveller!) the origin of the term ‘posh’ (meaning ‘elegant, swanky, rich’). Evidently the term originates from passengers who were travelling on the P&O (Peninsula and Orient) between the UK and India – ‘port out, starboard home’ were the best seats in the house, hence ‘posh’ stuck.



WHERE: Cotswolds, Lacock and Bath.

HOW: Back Roads Touring UK and Escape Travel Australia.

STAYED: Abbey Hotel, Bath.


Such stuff as dreams are made on – visit Stratford upon Avon

Such stuff as dreams are made on – visit Stratford upon Avon

I was looking forward to today’s visit to Stratford upon Avon. I haven’t seen all of England’s towns (wish I had) but I think I can safely say this is definitely one of the prettiest of them all. Obviously this medieval market town is particularly famous for one writer – William Shakespeare.

Stratford upon Avon boatsI’ll admit, I’m a fan. He’s influenced so much of our language and his stories continue to stand the test of time. I’m intrigued by the entire period he represents and so visiting Stratford upon Avon has always been part of my own ‘bucket list’ of places to see.

Today it’s my birthday – I’m an Anzac Day baby. Happy Birthday to me! It was a special day in Stratford upon Avon too, as April 25 marks the anniversary of Shakespeare’s funeral.

His birth home, Anne Hathaway’s cottage, Holy Trinity Church (where he’s buried) and various other monuments around the town showcased tributes and flowers to mark the occasion. Interestingly, William Shakespeare was born on April 23 – and he also died on April 23 (evidently in different years)! Weird – the thought did cross my mind today – is it sad, ironic or completely extraordinary that you’re born and die on the same day? Perhaps it just means you’re extra extra special, which he definitely was (and is).

Stratford upon Avon

Everyone in our group enjoyed Stratford upon Avon – apparently the second most visited place in England outside of London. It’s a delightful and interesting town where even if you’re ‘not into Shakespeare’, it’s impossible to not feel a little whimsical and romantic exploring the old streets and homes – all well maintained by diligent workers and fans of the Bard.

As part of the day’s adventures we visited Anne Hathaway’s enchanting cottage (pictured above). Steeped in history – if only the walls could talk.

Anne was William’s wife, and her family lived in this home for generations – up until 1911 in fact. Historical items in the home include beds (Anne’s parents’ bed as well as a bed that is thought to have been Anne and William’s ‘marriage bed’), kitchen and garden items.

Dscn0142_copyThe guide at the cottage, Alison, was SO knowledgeable and the visit was worthwhile for all her interesting facts and stories alone.

One thing I found incredibly entertaining was that she told us how in Tudor times, among much other baking, bread emerged from the oven burnt on the bottom (remember, no trays then); children under 11-years-old got the bottom bit first (they were ‘lowly’, like servants), next cut (or the ‘cut(s) above’) were distributed to the older children and so on; then the ‘upper crust(s)’ were given to the man of the house or distinguished guests. Hence class system connotations derived from a ‘simple’ process with a family loaf of bread – this, like so many other phrases coined from this period are still used to this day.


Today we also passed through quaint, intriguing little villages like Mickleton – home of the Three Ways House – a pub that lays claim to the popular ‘pudding club’ – renowned the country over! We also explored the exquisite villages of Broadway and Snowshill and stopped by a worthwhile lookout point (where on a clear day you can see all the way to Wales), Dover Hill – named after a guy called Robert Dover who actually came up with the concept of the Cotswold Olympick Games which this year celebrates its 400th milestone and highlights important cultural sports like… shin kicking – see a video here!

This is the second tour I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of, and once again I’m struck by how lovely it is to get to know different people from various parts of the world whom I might otherwise never have crossed paths with. Over breakfast, lunch, on the bus and while sipping on an afternoon coffee – each conversation with co-adventurers – solo travellers, couples, friends, mother-daughter teams and siblings – reveals something new: a positive attitude, life challenge overcome, surprising secret skill, a helpful piece of advice… It’s really possible to make lovely friends and be inspired on trips like this, because the bond of exploration and new experience is shared by all. We’re lucky to have amazing organised journeys on offer to us now – I’m a huge advocate of these tours because as I’ve said before – it ends up being about the travel and the (new) friends.



WHERE: Stratford upon Avon, the Cotswolds.

HOW: Back Roads Touring UK and Escape Travel Australia.

DINED AT: Eight Bells Inn.

STAYED: Noel Arms Hotel, Chipping Campden

To the city of dreaming spires…

To the city of dreaming spires…

I’m sitting in the sweetest room in an equally charming property, The Noel Arms Hotel, in the middle of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire – one of many gorgeous little villages in the Cotswolds.

Dscn0017_copyThe three-course dinner served downstairs this evening was nothing short of superb; and I have to admit the company was equally as good. Our four-day Heart of England tour (the first for 2012, and in a brand new vehicle, no less) commenced this morning in London.

Our Back Roads Touring guide, VJ, met our travelling troupe at Lancaster Gate Hotel at 8.30am, packed our bags into the mini bus and whisked us away from the city.

As anyone who has been to the UK knows, there’s nothing quite like exploring the lush English countryside – rolling green hills, old stone walls as far as the eye can see, and even some famous literary and film locations dotted along the map. Have to mention particularly for my mum that we drove through Midsomer Murders country – Chiltern Hills (Buckinghamshire) on the way to our first stop major stop, Oxford. Sunny spells throughout the morning meant we were able to explore the university town with ease and relative warmth.

Oxford is a small city of around 155,000 – known of course for its university and education industry, but also for publishing (Oxford University Press) and motoring (there’s an important Morris Motors factory in area). The university itself has no ‘exact founding date’, however there is evidence of teaching there from around 1096, and it is evidently one of the oldest surviving universities in the world.

VJ guided us through the beautiful grounds, famous Christ Church (or ‘the House’) and cathedral, grand Great Hall (well known now to a new generation of fans who love Harry Potter films), covered market (brimming with ‘distractions’, as VJ called the colourful shopping options), through colleges, libraries and monuments to all those who have lived, died and sacrificed for the development of this prestigious institution. VJ is an informed guide who expertly explained all the mysteries, myths and legends surrounding the development of many of the great buildings of Oxford, as well as reminding us of some of the most renowned graduates of the university.


It would be easy to spend days discovering and learning more about this beautiful ‘city of dreaming spires’ (as described by poet, Matthew Arnold), but the few hours spent with VJ on site was insightful and offered an ideal overview of the university hub.

Our next destination, Blenheim Palace, is also another location where days could very easily be spent exploring (and it’s similarly recognisable as a popular filming location in England).

Dscn0062_copyThe magnificent property (located in Woodstock, Oxfordshire) is home to the 11th Duke and Duchess of Marlborough and is the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill. Lavish, beautiful architecture, art, sculpture and tapestries adorn each internal wall and room; The grounds and gardens are immaculate and stretch for miles – literally.

The scope of the property is monumental, as is the collection of historical Churchill memorabilia – letters, photos, objects. The palace’s history dates back through Winston Churchill’s family, among a few other dignified British names, and the property itself is well maintained and boasts many helpful guides who know the history inside-out. We were all a bit awe-struck by Blenheim and its beauty and this stop was a highlight of ‘day one’.

Following our spectacular stop-off at Blenheim we meandered through nearby back streets and lanes, some so narrow that VJ had to expertly dodge on-coming vehicles because locals actually park ‘on’ the road. He pointed out some interesting features, buildings and stops on the pretty drive through the Cotswolds, and we were fortunate enough to take a peek at the Rollright Stones – a single stone, the King’s Stone, located on one side of the road (hidden from view behind trees, but positioned on a mound overlooking valleys and villages); and on the other side of the road we discovered a circle of stones, named The King’s Men Stone Circle. Thought to be around 5000 years old, this site was particularly intriguing for me – I love a good mystery steeped in ancient English myth!

No tourists, no barriers (ala Stonehenge), just us and a scene dating back thousands of years. Legend has been passed down that if you count the number of stones in the circle three times and come up with the same answer each time, you’ll either die or find the love of your life. Needless to say we didn’t feel the need to test the theory, although one brave soul (and popular American author!), Kay Moser, did give it a go… she’s still here so we’re going with the ‘love of your life’ theory playing out in her future. We also drove through a little place called Moreton in Marsh, reportedly the safest town in the UK because all the emergency services train there – they even have their own motorway for accident and emergency drills, and ladies, there’s a fire-fighters academy too! Who would have thought, in the middle of England?!

We casually checked in to the hotel late afternoon, freshened up, some explored Chipping Campden village, and then we met around 7pm for a drink and dinner get-together. So far the tour has been interesting and easy. Back Roads Tours have thus far proved to be small, comfortable and personal, with an intelligent calibre of travellers attracted to the program. Our group is a savvy, fun team of smart and well-travelled women (and two men, including VJ) – mostly Aussies, with a sprinkling of Americans and Canadians. Time for bed – Shakespeare’s country tomorrow.



WHERE: Oxford, Blenheim Palace, Rollright Stones, Cotswolds.

HOW: Back Roads Touring UK and Escape Travel Australia.

STAYED / DINED: Noel Arms Hotel, Chipping Campden