I recently went to the UK on a journey by train… some of you have been following the same on social media. While I will be posting many more features, photos and videos from the trip in the coming days and weeks, here is a little overview of what was one of the most memorable trips of my life.
1. My travel dates:
August 13 – 24, 2015
2. The reason I travelled:
Visit Britain, the tourism agency of the UK, invited me to explore the country by train. I travelled from Scotland to London, stopping over at some of earth’s prettiest places. I am now documenting the experience in print and on my blog.
3. Which cities did I visit?
Glasgow, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Lake District, Liverpool, the Cotswolds and London.
4. How long did I stay in each?
I spent an average of two days in each place.
5. Which airline did I fly?
6. Did I like the airline meals?
Yes, for a change I liked airline fare! It helped that I got upgraded to business class on both legs. The Indian sweet rasmalai and the choice of ice creams were worth a star each; freshly popped corn to complement the on-board movies was a special touch.
7. The best hotel(s) on the trip.
Sharrow Bay in the Lake District. Located on the shores of Ullswater and surrounded by mountains all around, the hotel is wonderfully quiet while being within whispering distance from commercial hum. You want to do little more than smile here, lest you should wake up the silence or disturb the tranquil waters.
The rooms boast stunning design—every available wall and corner is done up with valuable artworks and artefacts. From your window, you see the water with sailing boats bobbing in them, the colours of the sky and the moods of the sun.
Although it’s a rather small property, the management has invested in the best of chefs who ensure that each meal is an exquisite one.
Lounge in your room, or the common living spaces, or in the exquisitely done-up lawns—it is is true English country lifestyle where you can opt to live in any era of your choosing.
8. The city I loved most, and why:
I’ll have to toss the coin between Glasgow and Newcastle—both wondrous cities. But if I must choose, I will give the deciding point to Newcastle. Even if their football team has been disappointing its fans for the last many years.
You actually get two for the price of one here: Newcastle along the north bank of the Tyne River, and Gateshead along the south. NewcastleGateshead is the brand name for joint promotion of culture, business and tourism in the two cities. Art collections, weekly bazaars, shopping for all budgets and tastes, the finest of restaurants and cafes, events and festivals—it all happens here.
Go to the indoor Grainger Market, and you will find one of the original Marks and Spencer’s Penny Bazaar still in business (though you might not even get thoughts for a penny any more there.) Look up the Grey’s Monument in the centre of town—it’s got a statue of the reformist British Prime Minister Earl Grey atop a 130-foot column. Yes, that’s who the world famous tea is named after.
Head out a few miles out of town, and you will be on the coastline. I loved the pretty town of Tynemouth with cafes such as Dil & the Bear and lovely boutique stores. The castle and the beaches where it stands are a picture of calm; it is tough to imagine this being one of the first landing points of the Vikings.
9. One love-at-first-sight spot:
The villages of the Cotswolds, dotted with homes and buildings made of honey-hued Cotswolds stone. Manicured lawns, rippling streams, rolling hills, dense forests, happy cattle, bustling bazaars and cool cafes compose the Cotswolds. You cannot be blamed for thinking you have walked into a fairy tale book.
10. One shop I fell in love with:
Razzberry Bazaar in Tynemouth, a small coastal town a few miles outside Newcastle. My guide, Tom, had recommended I visit it. When I asked him what they sell, he said, “Everything.” He was not wrong. It is a pretty pink shop selling… almost everything you could want to do up your home. Signs, picture frames, hangings, lights, tea cups, clocks—the list is endless, and baggage space limited to 23 kilos. Sigh!
11. The best thing I bought on the trip, and what did it cost?
A big wall clock from a weekly riverside bazaar in Newcastle for five pounds (Rs. 500)—yes, you heard that right. I asked the vendor if it works; he said, wryly, “Yes, as long as you put batteries in it.”
12. Best meal I had on the trip:
I had freshly baked scones with jam and clotted cream, a pot of English breakfast tea, and cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches for lunch in the Cotswolds at the Tisanes Tea Room in Broadway village, on a table in the backyard. While I had many other delicious meals including at highly rated restaurants, what I had in the Cotswolds is not something you can replicate outside the UK.
13. One truly unique experience:
A visit to The Beatles Story. At this Liverpool museum, you walk through the life of the city’s most famous sons. On display are some of the original belongings (personal and professional) of the band, and some recreated—such as the Panam flight they took on their first tour to the US. With its show-and-tell and commentary, it feels as if the Beatles are right around you.
14. One money or time saving secret I would like to share from this trip:
Buy a rail pass—First Class if your budget allows. You can then hop on and off any trains during the validity of your pass. You can change schedule as many times as you like without incurring any charges. Buying passes or tickets in advance (especially online) can cost less than half the regular fare at times.
I would suggest you reserve seats on trains you wish to take. This does not cost anything extra in the UK. Even if you don’t turn up for that train, you do not lose anything. Take another. But seats have to be booked 24 to 48 hours in advance. If you don’t, it can be a challenge finding an unreserved seat on crowded sectors—painful to walk through carriages looking for one when you are lugging bags.
15. One travel secret/tip from the trip:
If you are doing a journey by train, carry minimum luggage. And despite the temptation to pick up knick-knacks, leave it for the fag end of the trip. If you must shop, take sturdy bags with wheels to make life easier.
Another tip: Skip breakfast in your hotel. There are such lovely tea rooms, cafes and restaurants calling you in all day—save your appetite for these. You can always have your omelettes and muesli back home.
16. If I had to do this trip again, what would I change?
I would spend more time in the Cotswolds and Lake District.
Follow my train journey in the summer of 2015 across the UK at #AJinUK. The trip was sponsored by VisitBritain but they did not influence any editorial.