Dear Reader, I’m sorry for my radio silence. I know I should have written this blog a month ago. It is so easy to get distracted by every day life and re-prioritise what to do from day-to-day when you have friends and family in front of you, as well as the major undertaking of planning a year of backpacking around Europe. With the start of that journey around the corner, I know it is now time to close off my UK trip, so I can then focus on what the continent has to offer.
Leaving Great Linford, I headed straight to my cousin’s house near Oxford for the final leg of my UK road trip. It was an easy drive and also quite pleasant, as I got to see even more of England’s green space and beautiful little villages, exuding their natural charm.
I was really looking forward to seeing my cousin as we had figured out it had been about 20 years since we last saw each other. I absolutely loved hanging out with Claire and her sister Vikki when we were young and although we didn’t live near each other, our Mums, as sisters, had a close enough relationship for us to see them relatively often and get to know our respective personalities. Even if one of us was a bit boring… 😉
Claire and I as children
I arrived at Claire’s house to a welcome hug and her very friendly little dog barking away. We settled in for a cup of tea and a brief history of 20 years each to deliver in about 30 minutes. It’s super hard to know where to start, as what could have been hugely relevant 16 years ago, could well be forgotten or surpassed by something of greater significance since that time. However, we covered a lot of ground and soon relaxed back into each others company and our natural commaradary from 20 years ago, soon returned and it was clear we were going to have an enjoyable time in each others company.
Having a free afternoon together and with both of Claire’s children – my second cousins – at school, we had the afternoon together and decided to go to Blenheim Palace, which was the birthplace and home of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace is currently the principal residence of the Duke of Marlborough and is the only non-Royal house in the country to hold the title of Palace. It was built between 1705-1722 and is now a designated World Heritage Site.
It was a lovely, crisp, winters day and the Palace looked resplendent in the sunshine, once the clouds parted. It is situated amid stunning gardens and grounds but while inside, we were able to take a look around the state apartments and see how opulent and detailed the interiors and art works are. We also got to see the room where Winston Churchill was born and the outfits he wore as a toddler.
As we wandered around, we got to see where he also proposed to his wife and got to see the long-lasting relationship of the Churchill and Spencer houses. It was great to see somewhere where so many influential people have walked through in the past 300 years.
Leaving the Palace, we headed to the grounds and saw how extremely well maintained they are, along with some awesome sculptures, a waterfall and a maze. There really was something awesome to see each time you turned around.
Leaving Blenheim, we headed back to Claire’s home, so I could get the chance to meet my second cousins and have a laugh with such a fun and awesome family. After a very amusing game of Jibber Jabber – the mouthpiece challenge – the ice was clearly broken and incriminating videos were taken on both sides, meaning we have to remain the firmest of friends to ensure they never reach the light of day! We had a great feed around the table of spag bol and a great catch up, before they all shifted rooms to accommodate me and I was able to get a good nights sleep before exploring Oxford proper the next day.
Saying goodbye to the Brookes’ I saw them out and had the house to myself for breakfast and some time to plan my day. After my staple of tea and toast, I headed to the park and ride to leave my car and got the bus into the city centre to start my day.
Oxford is the 52nd largest city in England and is known as the City of dreaming spires. The infamous University is the oldest University of the English-speaking world and has produced many of the world’s Presidents and Prime Ministers.
I started my day off on the sightseeing bus, making a mental note of the places I definitely wanted to visit after the one hour tourist journey. As the colleges were all around, Oxford University and the Radcliffe Camera Library were top of the list. Being such old and architecturally stunning buildings, it was a pleasure to stroll around and take in their magnificence. Although the opportunity to go inside a lot of the buildings wasn’t afforded to the public, I wasn’t too shy to avoid peering into windows and playing the tourist card if I ‘accidentally’ stepped beyond a private sign.
As I walked, I headed towards the castle and decided to head in for a nose around. It turns out that you cannot wander the castle without accompanying a tour guide and as I was the only person there at the time, I got my very own private tour, which was a little odd as the guide had to act as a character from the castle’s prison and with just me to act for, the dynamics did seem a bit odd. However he was the ultimate professional and kept character the whole time apart from when I needed someone to take photos of me. He was a good sport.
The castle was built by the Normans in 1071-73 and has since been rebuilt a number of times, due to war and ruin. It served as a prison for hundreds of years and closed for good as recently as 1996. It was really interesting to hear the history as we walked around from the dungeons to the turrets and although it is meant to be a very haunted site, I didn’t see anything to spook me. In the end, it was quite good fun having my own tour guide and it was good to have someone around to take photos of me, since my selfie stick broke in the Lake District.
I had a late lunch nearby and then made my way to Christ Church Cathedral for a chance to view the Great Hall, which they would have used in the Harry Potter movies, if only it was big enough. Being my last Cathedral of the tour, it didn’t disappoint and there were some stunning stain glass windows and really intricate carvings into the stone ceilings. After lingering for enough time to absorb everything and enjoy the history of the place, I left and headed to my final port of call which was the Museum of the History of Science.
The museum had so many artifacts that it was difficult to take it all in and with so much knowledge around me but also within me from 6 weeks of museum, castle and cathedral tours around the UK, I was actually struggling to take much more in. One piece which did catch my eye was a chalk board which was used by Albert Einstein, when he once lectured at the University. After he had finished his class, a quick thinking student managed to steal the chalkboard, before it was wiped clean and managed to keep it preserved, before handing it back to the University many years later.
I left the Museum and headed to the River Themes, for my last river walk, feeling a little sad that the tour was coming to an end but excited about planning the greater adventure of Europe! As I walked back towards the city, I noticed the bus to take me back to my car and hopped on. I reached my car and made the final leg of my journey back to my parents house in Worthing.
This trip has really been brilliant. I have really enjoyed getting to see so much more of the country I grew up in and really be able to connect the historical threads which bring together the tapestry of what makes England the great country it is today. It’s been amazing to walk in the same rooms as some of the most influential and powerful people in British history, enjoy the vast and absolutely stunning English countryside, see the hills, mountains and coastlines of the British Isles and get the chance to reconnect with some amazing friends and family at varying points around the trip. I’ve seen some iconic sites and met some amazing people along the way to.
Everyone has been friendly (perhaps too friendly in Liverpool!), kind and helpful and getting used to fending for myself, staying in hostels and enjoying my own company has been invaluable for the next leg of my European adventure. I would implore anyone to see more of England and really appreciate what this great country has to offer. I can see why Great Britain really is great.