In the 1970s I had a group of about a dozen good friends that I spent a lot of time with, one from grade school (Tim W, still friends), some from high school, some from Rutgers College, near where I lived in Highland Park, NJ, where those friends had gone to school. During 1978 we started discussing the idea of a trip to England together. I’m not sure who started it, but by a year-end party at my apartment, I agreed to be the one to make plans. As above, I put those plans into a series of six “British Bulletins” I typed up and mailed out to everyone interested. This was great fun, I think trip planning can be nearly as interesting as the trip itself. Those wanting to go waffled, and by the time I needed to make reservations in April, we were down to three going: myself, and two Lindas. Linda R. made her own travel plans from her home in Vermont, I booked charter flights for Linda C. and myself out of Newark, NJ for June 30th, and we met Linda R. in London. I had written to a few small hotels and bed and breakfasts at each of our trip destinations, and mailed out reservation deposits. Unfortunately, it was a time of great labor unrest in England, with many labor strikes and demonstrations. As we arrived at some of our rooms, we found they either hadn’t received our deposit yet, or it had just arrived, due to a mail carrier strike! But all the hosts were very helpful, and if they didn’t have rooms for us, they found them at a neighbor’s house, so that all worked out fine. Here’s my write up of the places I had made reservations:As you can see, it was a pretty cheap place to vacation the way we did it, even for 1979, with average room rates about $12 per night, including breakfast. We pre-purchased British Rail Passes, allowing us to travel anywhere in the UK by rail at no extra cost. I don’t recall what the price was, but it was a good deal. We also bought “Open-to-view” passes, which allowed us access to many of the sights we wanted to see. The airfare for Linda C. and I on an Evergreen charter flight was probably about $350 each round trip. That’s about half the cost of a regular ticket at the time. The flight going over was fine, but coming back it was a nightmare, convincing me never to book charter airfare again! As usual, it was an overnight flight, and I was too excited to sleep. When we arrived at Heathrow Airport on July 1st, Linda R. was there, having arrived the day before, and the adventure was on. We took the Underground to London, checked into our hotel, and hit the streets. I was determined to stay up until that evening in London, thereby getting on Greenwich time. A good idea, but we were really dragging by afternoon, even with tea breaks! I think Linda C. gave it up and went to bed early, while Linda R. and I persevered.
That first afternoon Linda R and I took a bus to Hampstead Heath, a beautiful park in the north of London. The weather was great (we had little rain on the two week trip, surprisingly), and even too warm, making us all the more sleepy. I had wanted to visit Highgate Cemetery nearby, but I think it was closed that day, so we just walked around the area until we were barely able to stand, and got a bus or Underground train back to our hotel on Bloomsbury Street.
Over the next week we saw lots of wonderful sights, including Westminster Abbey, above, where many of England’s finest are buried.
The cloisters at Westminster Abbey are a quiet respite from the noisy town.
Two Lindas dressed for rain in the Westminster Abbey cloisters.
The Tower of London is actually a large complex of buildings, much of it originally a prison. The oldest part is the White Tower, built soon after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
Inside, the beautiful open chapel makes it easy to imagine yourself back in those times.
Very simple and all the more awe-inspiring for it.
Outside, the Tower Ravens were fascinating, though I knew their wings were clipped to keep them from flying away.
Of course you can’t visit London without a look at Big Ben, part of the Houses of Parliament. Actually “Big Ben” is the bell in the tower, not the tower itself.
St. Paul’s Cathedral is the other huge and historic church in London. Here we were able to climb up inside the walls for wonderful views inside the massive dome…
…and outside, looking at one of the twin bell towers towards the Thames.
In addition to architecture, we were able to attend concerts, including two productions of Gilbert & Sullivan light operas at the Holland Park Court Theatre. Above is “Iolanthe,” and we also saw “Pirates of Penzance” on another evening. Linda R and I are big G&S fans, so this was a thrill. There were at least two veterans of the original D’Oyly Carte company in these: Donald Adams and Thomas Round, and the productions were excellent. We also saw art at the Victoria and Albert Museum…
…and at the William Morris Gallery just outside London. Morris is a favorite of mine.
We visited the amazing botanical gardens at Kew on one cloudy day. And of course, we had lots of smaller adventures at restaurants and pubs. I know we all learned to love Indian food there! We also made time for shopping: books, records, clothing, and souvenirs. Especially books.
I had several day-trips out of London on my list of things we might do, but we only managed one of them. One morning we took a bus to Windsor and visited Windsor Castle. The Queen was not in residence, so it was open to the public.
On the grounds inside, a marching band entertained visitors.
The castle was elegant and beautiful.
We enjoyed seeing it inside and out, but as often happened, I didn’t get good pictures inside. I can’t recall if photos weren’t allowed, or there just wasn’t enough light for my camera, which didn’t have a flash.
After lunch in Windsor, we took another bus to Hampton Court, the royal palace of the Tudors from Henry the Eighth on. It’s very different from the other castles we saw, being made of red brick, but quite stunning.
One of my favorite things on our trip was walking the famous Hampton Court maze. I couldn’t get a good overview, so this is from a postcard.
We had a good time with it. The maze is very old, but relatively simple. Still, with a half mile of paths, it can puzzle you for a while. Following the right side of every path will get you through, but not the quickest way.
We did make it through eventually.
From Hampton Court we caught a passenger boat that brought us back down the Thames to London. It was quite cold on the water, even in July, but we enjoyed the ride. After a while they started up a singalong on the boat’s loudspeakers, and many joined in. It seemed very British! The route took us past the Houses of Parliament, in the distance above.
We passed under some of London’s bridges, including Hammersmith Bridge, the most interesting visually to me. At the end of our week in and around London, we packed up and headed out into the rest of the country for our second week. I’ll cover that next time.