On my return trip from Greece, I had a self-imposed 2-night layover in London as I hoped to visit my cousin and her husband who live about a two hour drive from Gatwick Airport, as well as explore a bit of the English countryside, perhaps visit Stonehenge and Salisbury and take a tour of the city as well.
As it turned out, the tour was cancelled for lack of participants, but that ended up being a good thing as that would have been way too much to cram into the time I had. When I learned the tour was a no go, I did some searching online and found a great deal for a stay in a castle in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, not far from where my cousin lives in Wiltshire. I've stayed in quite a few Irish castles, but never an English castle and I'd never even heard of this one. It looked spectacular. And it was.
Closely listening to my GPS, I made one turn after another through the winding lane that was framed by the vibrant colors of autumn. It was a residential neighborhood, and I questioned whether or not Siri was sending me on a goose chase. "You've arrived," Siri announced as I reached a stone gate and a long driveway with a sign posted Thornbury Castle. Just before the castle to the right was St. Mary's Church, the oldest surviving building in Thornbury, dating all the way back to the 12th century. As I made my way through the gate and the castle itself came into view, the exhaustion of the late night flight from Athens to London quickly faded away. I couldn't believe this was where I was actually going to spend the night.
Stepping in, I was treated like royalty from the start, with the front desk receptionist insisting on lugging my heavy suitcase up several flights of stairs up to my room, called the "deClare." If you've ever seen the movie "The Holiday," that scene where Kate Winslet runs through Cameron Diaz's Hollywood home jumping for joy, that's just how I felt. Especially when I saw the bed. The four-poster bed has a chandelier right above it, with silky draperies wrapped around. I had one of the best night's sleeps in recent memory. Good thing, because I had a long day ahead.
The plan was to drive through The Cotswolds, visit Salisbury Cathedral and at least try to see Stonehenge from a distance - all before 2 p.m., the time I had to be back at the airport for my flight to New York.
Just driving through the countryside was enjoyable, but The Cotswold District truly looked like something out of a fairy-tale. I had just enough time to walk around and take a few pictures before speeding off to Salisbury. Salisbury Cathedral's tall spire came into view well before I reached the city. It's the tallest church spire in the entire United Kingdom, at 404 feet, and it also boasts the oldest working clock in the world, dating to 1386.
Just driving by it isn't an option - you've got to park and walk, and the sand in that hour glass was quickly running out. I found a spot and ran, literally running through the streets of Salisbury in order to capture images of the 13th-century cathedral up close.
It was truly one of the most breathtaking things I've ever laid eyes on. For a few minutes I completely forgot about the time. When I finally looked, it was 12:15 p.m., and I was an hour and 45 minutes from Gatwick Airport.
I barely made it, returning my car at 2:01 p.m., making the decision on the journey back, that I will return next year.
When I got home, I dug through my huge box of ancestry papers and discovered that not only were a number of my ancestors from Gloucestershire, I have an ancestor with a connection to Berkeley Castle, just 8 miles from Thornbury.
On my next trip, I'm going to need a lot more than 2 days.
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