I wanted to save money on my last hotel night in London before I caught my flight home from Heathrow, and still be able to do something interesting. I love, love, love the Royal Botanic Garden. If it is not the best in the world, it is in the top three. It also is conveniently located to hotels and a subway station. So my plan was to take the train from Essex to London and the Tube to Kew Gardens, check in and spend the rest of the day in the gardens.
Whoopsie, no one told the London Underground and they decided to do maintenance and close the station at Kew Gardens on Sunday.
I could recount the perils I faced finding my way to Kew, instead I am going to recount the many kindnesses I received:
UK Sarah driving me to the train station and staying until the train arrived.
Woman offering me the tip about taking the train to Kew Bridge station and then catching a cab.
Security man allowing me through with my goofy train/underground ticket.
Young man who carried my 50 pound bag up the stairs at the Kew Bridge station.
Pub man in Kew calling a taxi for me.
Hotel reception that included carrying my bag up the stairs and setting up my fan on a 90+ degree day.
Was it worth all the trouble? Definitely yes. Just look at this beauty!
The Royal Botanic Garden at Kew is constantly changing. It has been a few years since I last visited and it now has a Treetop Walk. I really enjoyed the experience of walking through the tops of trees with a bird or squirrel view. Please don’t make people who are afraid of heights go up. I saw people really suffering. It is not for everyone.
Another new feature is The Hive, a fascinating interactive experience to celebrate the role of honeybees in nature. I love bees and this was a joyful time for me.
It was a very hot day and I was already worn out from traveling all day. I found the gardens motivating me, still, some old men (one with a cane) were walking down the path faster than me. I stopped for an ice cream cone and it melted faster than I could keep licking and I used napkins to mop up my continuing mess. I tucked them in my bag because there wasn’t a trash can nearby. Later when I wiped sweat from my face, I must have spread chocolate all over my face! When I was on the treetops walk, a kind woman leaned over and whispered, “You have chocolate on your face.” I was chagrined but had to laugh. How long was I walking around with chocolate all over?
The Kew Gardens Hotel is a lovely, relaxed pub hotel. There is no A/C, but the fan did it’s work. The food was just okay but the environment was convivial and the staff super helpful. The journey to Heathrow Airport in the morning was a cinch. I hope I can return in a few years.
While I was on my own in Winchester I did some book shopping and I found a book I had read about in the New York Times Book Review, Sarah Perry’s The Essex Serpent. It seemed like the perfect book to read while I was fossicking around the county with UK Sarah. When we caught up with each other, Sarah pulled a book from her bag that a friend had given her, “I can read it and then you can read it!” I laughed and pulled out my copy. So we both began reading the book on our journey from Winchester to Tollesbury.
We planned our activities and saved searching out the landmarks in the book for our last full day in Essex. We’d begin at Colchester and then because her main village was imaginary, we’d visit Wivenhoe (Wiven-HOE!) on the River Colne. Then for a bonus, we drove out to see Mersea Island because I kept it seeing it in the distance and I was curious.
Colchester is a fascinating city. It is fast growing now, but its modern development is built on an old Roman wall and around Colchester Castle.
We really had a lot of fun interacting with the book, the history, and the current people and place. We got caught in a lot of traffic on our way to WivenHOE! because University of Essex was hosting their open campus day for prospective students. Once we were out of town we had the roads much more to ourselves. It is always a bit amazing that so many people can live in England and yet there is still so much seemingly uninhabited countryside. Recommend the book and the day’s adventure!
Wivenhoe on the River Colne
Here is a sample of the book to entice you to read it:
She arrives home with her arms full of dog-roses in creamy bloom and three new freckles on her cheek. She puts her arms round Martha’s waist, thinking how well they fit ther in the groove above her broad hips, and says, “They’re on their way–everyone who’s ever loved me and everyone I’ve ever loved.” (p. 231)
I can’t believe I was able to walk over 10,000 steps without even thinking about it. The Promenade Park at Maldon makes it easy to do. This is also a good activity for people of all ages.
We stayed along the river and followed the walkway out to the North Sea. It begins with the Blackwater Barges. There is an active sailing club that maintains these ships and works to restore them. They were sponsoring a “barge match and smack race” on Saturday. (We saw them from a distance!)
It is also the home of the Maldon Salt Company. As you look across the marshes and see the tidal influence you can imagine how salt is harvested.
Byrhtnoth the Earldorman: there is a lot of history in Essex including Viking and Roman
I really enjoyed our time walking along the Quay and the river. Essex offers a gently refreshing family holiday.
One of the things that bonded UK Sarah and me, while we looked for the tomato paste in Eden Market, was her recent ordination in the Anglican church. She attended seminary in Chelmsford and so she wanted to show me the city she knows so well.
I loved the inside of the Cathedral. Lots of terrific art.
Chelmsford is becoming the shopping center for Essex with fashionable shops and a brand new John Lewis department store. We did dip in and out of a few shops and do our part for the local economy.
Places in Essex are not too far apart that you could easily visit Chelmsford and Muldon in a day. Or Colchester and Mersea Island. Currently it may not be a tourism center but it would not unfair to call it flat and dull. Slow down and you’ll begin to see the special attributes of the east coast, the saltings and tidal march, and smaller towns and villages.
If you travel much, then you’ve probably had jam from Tiptree in Essex. It’s a short drive from Tollesbury, so we planned to visit the Wilkin & Sons Ltd. jam factory. It is surrounded by the Tiptree strawberry farms and there is a small museum that chronicles the illustrious history of their preserves, including visits and honors from the Queen of England.
We stopped at lunchtime and enjoyed toasted cheese sandwiches, which is something of a tradition for UK Sarah and me. I saved room for dessert. I thought the custard on my apple pie would be more like ice cream, surprised but still pleased it was delicious.
Jokes about English food are out of date. They even have good coffee now. There are still some mysteries that I will never understand…
My friend UK Sarah lives in Tollesbury and descriptions of life in her Essex village were too lovely to visit England without experiencing the essence of Essex. We stayed at her home in Tollesbury and made day trips. Our days were ordered though by drinks or dinner with friends, walks in the village and to the sea, and time for reading. No point in being in Tollesbury if you don’t actually spend time in Tollesbury.
I understand why she and Roy were glad to move back. While their boat Ocean Dancer is home for the next few months. This is where they will weigh anchor at the end of their adventure.
The Great Hall, built in 1235 by Henry III, is the last remaining building from the great Winchester Castle. After his coronation at Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1066, William the Conqueror began building the castle. Henry III had a love of architecture and commissioned Elias of Dereham to oversee building of the Hall. Dereham also oversaw the construction of Salisbury Cathedral and is the only commoner to be honored in the stained glass windows.
The Great Hall has been used for many functions: court trials, weddings, and a “round table.” Tournament is Edward I time were called “round tables” where courtiers dressed up from Arthurian legend and participated in jousting and feasting.
On our way to the Great Hall we stopped at Eat, Drink and Be for coffee and breakfast. Yum.
“Edward I believed strongly in the myth of King Arthur. He attended many round table feasts. Edward had the table build within the Great Hall, which may have been for a round table tournament in 1290 to celebrate the arranged marriages of his children.” (The Great Hall Where History and Legend Meet, Hampshire County Council)
Henry VIII first visited Winchester as King in 1516, whereupon he ordered the repair of the Great Hall at Winchester and the Round Table. This is when it was first painted in the design you see on display today.
Winchester Castle was largely destroyed by that spoilsport Oliver Cromwell after 1645. Only the Great Hall remains and it is now the responsibility of the County of Hampshire.
The Great Hall makes the most of its sketchy connection to King Arthur. I’ve seen Excalibur and read a bit about it, but I admit my knowledge has some big blanks, so I was excited to read Rosie Schaap’s New York Times travel article, “King Arthur Slept Here (Maybe).” She asserts that the places to visit if you are interested in an Arthurian pilgrimage are Glastonbury, Tintagel, Totnes and Padstow. Her article then goes on to describe the kind of new age and coven-catering shops you can find almost anywhere in California. None of her experiences relate to King Arthur. Perhaps Avalon is best left to the imagination.