Six Ways To Get Your UK Tour Off To A Better Start | TravelResearchOnline

Six Ways To Get Your UK Tour Off To A Better Start

For many travel planners, London Heathrow arrivals are frequently followed by the slow drive through the London rush hour traffic to hotels, where the rooms are often not ready. For more years than I choose to remember, I’ve been championing the idea of starting tours of Britain with the first three to four nights in the English countryside. To illustrate the point, I’m suggesting journeys of less than one hour from London Heathrow to cathedral cities and market towns where jet lag can be parked in fine country house hotels and new travel experiences can be enjoyed before arriving in London, adjusted to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and when bedrooms are ready.

Take a look at my Six of the Best – St Albans, Guilford, the Ashdown Forest, Oxford, Petworth and Winchester. Many of your clients will love this idea.

A New Angle on 2000 Years of History

The 40-45 minute M25 journey from London Heathrow will take you quickly to some warm welcomes and a great Full English Breakfast at a wide range of hotels in and around the city of St. Albans. It was one of the country’s first Roman settlements, the Verulamium Museum unravels its rich history with interactive displays and some of the finest Roman mosaics and wall plasters outside the Mediterranean. The nearby St. Albans Cathedral is the burial place for the first recorded British Christian martyr, and it’s been a place of pilgrimage and worship for over 1400 years. With Olivia Colman winning the Best Actress Award at the Oscars, The Favourite was filmed among the elegant parterres and treasure-filled interiors of nearby Jacobean Hatfield House. Let’s talk about an On-Location tour that also includes Father Brown, Inspector Morse, Harry Potter, the new Shakespeare movie All is True.

Guildford in the Heart of Surrey

Just 35-40 minutes from London Heathrow, the cathedral town of Guildford is another great place to adjust to GMT. A must-see for music lovers is the 18th century Hatchlands Park, home to the Cobbe Collection of over 40 keyboard instruments. This same arts-loving audience will also appreciate the Watts Gallery and Artists Village, the former home of G. F. Watts, the most famous artist of the Victorian era. He was the first British artist to have a solo exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1884 and was known as England’s Michelangelo. Spring is a wonderful time to visit the RHS flagship garden at Wisley when more than magnolias and rhododendrons bring life and colour to the garden. If your green fingered clients missed this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, suggest the spectacular 3rd-8th September Wisley Flower show with its amazing displays, award-winning nurseries and National Dahlia Society Show.

The Great Gardens of Kent and Sussex

Using the M25 motorway, it’s just over an hour to some lovely country house hotels in and around the Ashdown Forest. Between them, they provide a perfect base for a 3-4 night itinerary that can include the award-winning English Country Garden at Pashley Manor, the magnificent spring and summer displays at Borde Hill and the classical statuary and giant topiary chess set at 13th century Hever Castle. All three are former winners of the prestigious Historic Houses/Christies Garden of the Year Award and go well with visits to the newly re-opened Leonardslee, and Sissinghurst Castle, one of the world’s most celebrated gardens. A. A. Milne, author of the Pooh books, lived on the edge of the Ashdown Forest and based the Hundred Acre Wood on real places in the forest. Bring your imagination and take a walk where Christopher Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Tigger and Eeyore roam.

The City of Dreaming Spires

Less than an hour up the M40 motorway, Oxford makes a very good hub for the first 3 nights of a UK tour. 20 minutes further on, you can be in the charming market towns of Woodstock or picturesque Burford. Start your visit with a walking tour that follows in the footsteps of Endeavour, Inspectors Morse and Lewis and then enjoy a pub lunch at the 16th Century Eagle and Child, the meeting place for the Inklings, associated with C S Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Then while away an hour or two discovering the links between Harry Potter and Alice in Wonderland at Christ Church College. On another day, you should beat the crowds with an early visit to Blenheim before returning to Oxford or relive some of your favourite episodes of Downton Abbey with visits to 2-3 On Location Oxfordshire Cotswolds villages.

The Antiques Centre of Southern England

If antique hunting is on your client’s radar, they’ll enjoy staying in Petworth. Just over 1-hour from Heathrow, it is home to 37 members of the Petworth Antiques and Decorative Arts Association, justifiably making it the top destination for antiques in the south of England. There’s enough variety here to satisfy serious antique collectors for 3-4 days but for those who prefer to browse for a couple of half days, the late 17th century Petworth House is home to one of the finest art collections in the care of the National Trust. Other side trips include The Weald and Downland Living Museum set in a beautiful landscape in the South Downs National Park, the city of Portsmouth, host to this year’s 75th anniversary of D-Day and jousting tournaments at the 1000-year-old Arundel Castle.

England’s Ancient Capital City

1-hour southwest of Heathrow, the city of Winchester was the capital of Kings and Queens from Saxon through to medieval times. At its heart, the great Norman cathedral offers a variety of imaginatively themed tours. It is also the final resting place for Jane Austen and close by, the 13th century Great Hall is home to the famous Round Table associated with King Arthur and believed to date back to around 1280. A short walk along the banks of the River Itchen brings you to the Hospital of St. Cross, founded in 1136 and where you’ll see the Chapel, the Brethren’s Hall, the Master’s Garden and the Porter’s Lodge where you will receive “Wayfarer’s Dole”, consisting of a small horn cup of ale and a piece of bread.


Paull Tickner, owner of U.K.-based Custom GB, is known for his expertise in creating and operating imaginative, value-added tours of Great Britain and Ireland. Visit his website at www.customgb.co.uk or email him at ptickner@customgb.co.uk.

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