As I’m sure many of you know my mission this year is to see more of the UK, especially those parts of the country that are on my door step. However, sometimes I find there are so many places I want to see that narrowing it down for a day trip is near on impossible. That’s why an organised tour can be good for those indecisive days or when you don’t have your own car.
I recently took a tour with England Experience to visit Stratford, The Cotswolds and Bicester Village and had a fantastic time. I was reminded of how I love small group tours with amazing tour guides who are full of interesting facts about the area and great recommendations. It also saves you from having to do all the ‘leg work’, which lets face it we don’t always have time for in our busy lives!
The first stop out of London was Bicester Village, admittedly this was the one I’d been looking forward to the least. However, Paul D (our tour guide) did a great job of sparking my interest in the place, explaining how they have valet parking, shuttle buses from the coach park and a £50 coach trip from London daily. I was so intrigued as to what kind of place this is by the time we arrive. We are given a 10% voucher as part of the tour and dropped at the main entrance for the village by the shuttle bus. The shops are your typical high end UK brands and I can see the appeal for tourists or those obsessed with shopping.
For me, someone who has little interest in shopping, I am drawn to the gorgeous shop fronts and flower decorations lining the ‘streets’. When they say Bicester Village they really mean village, so much effort has gone into making this place look as gorgeous as the stuff in the shops. The stores here are primarily clothes, jewellery and shoes but thankfully there are a few food outlets too. However, the main attraction to this village is the outlet price tag attached to all of the items, each store offers a heavy discount compared to the prices you’ll find on the highstreets in London. I suddenly understand why that £50 coach from London is appealing.
The second stop and the one I was most excited about was Stratford, not the one in London but the one in Warwickshire that is full of Shakespeare history. It is home to his birth place, family home and even his burial ground although I have to admit it wasn’t the history of this man that excited me. It was the gorgeous buildings and olde-wolde feel the town has to offer.
Our driver guide Paul begin filling us in on some facts as he drove around the town to point out the key spots. This is something that makes tours like these so successful. We only had 1 hour 30 minutes to spend here so it was key we knew where things were and what was on offer to ensure that we made the most of the stop. It also happened to be lunch time while we were here so if you really wanted to visit some of the Shakespeare spots I’d highly recommend grabbing something to eat on the minibus during the next drive.
Being more interested in taking photos of all the pretty buildings I took a nice long walk around the town and waterside before settling down in Hathaway Tearooms for food. This tearooms is the oldest in Stratford; it’s history goes back along way before then too and is conveniently located next to Shakspeare’s New Place.
While we were in Stratford we also got to pop to his wife’s cottage for a quick photo opportunity. This was an added extra Paul slotted in as we were doing so well on time that day. I loved how he had plenty of ways to expand our day beyond what we were expecting.
Our final ‘big stop’ of the day was to Bourton-on-the-Water, one of the prettiest of the Cotswolds towns and named the Venice of the Cotswolds. It is easy to see why; the town is set on Windrush river and all the buildings are full of character. The whole town is built up around the river and grass around it, not surprisingly there are multiple footbridges across it. We visited on a sunny spring day and the town was full of visitors either dining, eating ice-cream or playing by the water’s edge. I also loved how the town was full of quirky independent shops and only a few typical high-street chains.
However, visiting the Cotswolds was not just about this one town, it was about the views from the windows before and after Bourton-on-the-Water. We drove on country roads where the hills rolled and fields of rapeseed brightened the horizon. We drove through small villages and towns where the buildings were all made of the Cotswolds stone and designed in keep with the old fashioned buildings. This area of the UK was not one to stop at and tick off your bucket list but one to journey through and experience. I will certainly be back!
England Experience are a relatively new tour company having only been running a few months. However, inexperienced they are not. They are the sister company of Highland Experience a very successful company showing off the highlights of Scotland. This knowledge is helping to make England Experience look like an experienced company who know exactly how to ensure their guests have the best time. Their small tour groups of 16 (except for the Stonehenge tour) allow for the tours to be more personalised for each member of the party and the fact they provide walking tours during some of the city stops makes this more than a bus ride around the country.
Each tour has been carefully planned and thought through to ensure the group gets the most out of their day, our tour for instance used to have Bicester Village later in the day but due to traffic this meant less time shopping. After a quick switch to the schedule there is now more time seeing and less time sitting in traffic, a win for everyone I think. The drivers are friendly, experienced and clearly love their job (and country). No matter how good the country and stops are I feel the driver/tour guide is what makes the day. They know how to work their group, take a personal interest in everyone and ensure that everybody has a good time. This was certainly true of Paul our driver guide for the day.
As Experience England head into their first summer season they will be setting up stand in Cafe Nero (opposite Harrods), they will even have a desk to check people in for each tour. This is also the location where the buses depart and return to. I love that their drop off/pick up point is central and doesn’t take you around everyones hotel before you can get on the road!
I cannot recommend these guys enough, their focus really is on making sure you have the best time and see/learn as much as possible about your chosen destinations.
Have you been on a tour with Experience England? What did you think?