Bath, Stonehenge, and a Secret Place - Part 1
Now that I’m back home and (mostly) recovered from the trip, I’ll start blogging in more detail about our experiences in England. If you read my last post that summarized our week in London, you’ll know that we were headed on a tour to Bath and Stonehenge, so that’s where this post will pick up!
When I was planning our trip, I researched for several weeks and mulled over every little detail before making any decision (I guess I’m a true Capricorn, after all). Ty really wanted to spend a day in the English countryside, and Brandon was pretty much up for anything we decided to do, so finding a good tour company became a priority. There are quite a few tour groups from London to Bath and Stonehenge, and most of these larger coach tours also throw in Windsor Castle. That seemed like a lot to squeeze into a single day. Windsor alone would take half a day to fully enjoy.
I ultimately booked with The English Bus, which is a family-owned and operated small group tour company. Since they’re a smaller company and so highly rated on Tripadvisor, their tours fill up quickly, but near the last minute of our vacation planning, they added an additional day of touring to their itinerary that happened to fall on our last full day in England. It also happened to be their most popular tour: Bath, Stonehenge and a Secret Place.
The Booking Process
Booking with The English Bus was incredibly easy. You select a scheduled tour and grab any open spots, then enter each family member’s information. This is nice because they already knew our names when we showed up that morning, so there’s no paperwork, ticket, or receipt you have to keep up with, even though I, in true Capricorn fashion, had multiple confirmation print-outs on hand just to be on the safe side. But no, The English Bus makes it easy. They simply verify your name and let you on the bus.
Not only did I get a confirmation email from Jen the office manager after booking, but just a few days before our tour while we were enjoying London, I received a detailed email with our tour guide’s name, his contact information, and a tip sheet with recommendations on what to see and do in London. Our tour guide did ultimately change the day of the tour as they had to shuffle some things around, and we ended up with Chris, the company owner.
Remember how I said this was a family-run business? Chris and Jen are married and started The English Bus together, and even though they have other tour guides, they’re very involved in the day-to-day operations of their company. You can see them both here doing the Ice Bucket Challenge in front of their bus Bertie (more about the bus names later):
The Morning of the Tour
We had to be near the London Eye at 8:45 that morning, which meant skipping breakfast at the B&B and joining the commuter traffic on the Tube. I think Ty had been nervous about that all week, but even though the Tube was crowded, we didn’t have any issues at all and arrived at Waterloo station earlier than planned. It was a short walk to the coach parking bay, and we stood around in the wind for about 20 minutes before others in the tour group started to show up. Yes, we always insist on arriving anywhere important super early.
The two buses came shortly after, right on time.
We were the first ones to board Chris’s bus, so we sat in the very front. This turned out to be a smart decision because it allowed us to talk to him more throughout the day whenever he had his mic off.
Once everyone was aboard, he went over the plans for the day before setting off. He also pointed out the name on the minibus in front of us, as "Victoria" was written on its rear. He explained that Victoria was their newest bus, and that we were sitting on "Albert," also known as "Bertie." Victoria and Albert, as you probably know, refer to Queen Victoria and her beloved Prince Albert. Cute, right?
Although the two buses left together, we never saw the other group for the rest of the day, although we’d occasionally spy Victoria on the road in front of us. I should also mention that each bus holds 16 people, as opposed to the larger coach tours that hold upwards of 70. You can imagine how personalized this tour was compared to those. Chris shared so many stories and funny anecdotes, and he encouraged us to ask questions throughout the ride, which led to more stories. You simply won't find that on a coach tour.
The First Leg of the Tour
While he was driving us out of London, Chris was on his microphone sharing detailed histories of the buildings we passed. Once we reached the outskirts of the city, we stopped for a toilet break at a place similar to a truck stop here in the States, though I'd liken it more to a cross between a convenience store and rest area, and we had a chance to grab some breakfast to go. Although we were going from one side of the country to the other, it only takes just over two hours to reach our "secret place" according to Google maps. That's how small England is. Chris, however, often took the bus off the main roads to give us a better feel for the countryside. That's the good thing about taking a tour in a minibus as opposed to a large coach.
You may be wondering why this tour is called "Bath, Stonehenge and a Secret Place." The "secret place" is at the tour guide’s discretion, so they have a few places in mind but choose one based on questions they ask the tour group during the drive into the countryside. This means that if we ever book with The English Bus again, they’ll likely take us aside and ask where our secret place was the first time so they can go somewhere we haven’t yet experienced. It’s a nice touch, and I loved the mystery of it.
I won't reveal where our secret place was; all I’ll say is that it was amazing. :)
I cannot recommend The English Bus enough, so if you're planning a trip to London and are on the fence about which tour group to book for a day in the countryside, you can't go wrong with this one. If you'd like to read more about Chris and Jen and their business, this article is a great place to start.