Recently, I joined a group of people as part of a modern coach trip. It would be brief for me lasting only a couple of days. My experience took place over a glorious autumn weekend to the west of London. It had been arranged by the Coach Tourism Council, the body that represents the interests of many British coach companies. It was to provide a savour of the quality of organised travel available from the coaching industry in the 21st century. I had gratefully left my car safely parked as I joined my friends on board at Bracknell in Royal Berkshire.
We were to be transported in a thoroughly modern, air conditioned, really quite luxurious vehicle provided by Epsom Coaches. This was an establishment based to the south of the capital City. Steve, our driver, had the itinerary all organised. He was smartly dressed in a company uniform and took complete care of our welfare. We left all of the busy west London traffic, routing, parking and fuelling to our new friend, sitting right up there in the front seat. We set off towards Windsor, about a forty minute journey away. The first event was to be a river cruise along the Thames River, almost as far as Maidenhead.
It was to be a fresh, sunny voyage on a fresh and sunny day in September. The vessel was operated by a firm called ‘French Brothers’, based in Windsor. They have been providing river cruising services for decades and arguably are the best and most professional in the business. The boat captain was young and brisk faced. He held a river craft Masters Certificate and would provide a running commentary about all that we saw along the way. We left the dramatic sight of Windsor Castle disappearing behind us as we set off.
The journey took us past a number of residences owned by the rich and famous in television and show business. Their homes rested amongst the trees along the rural banks of the river. Windsor race course emerged further along. It is shaped like a figure ‘eight’ to fit into its restricted area. Monkey Island with its famous hotel appeared from the green and graceful scenery as we proceeded. After we had easily navigated our second river lock during the course, we slowed to view the famous Bray Film Studios on the left bank. The historic building has recently been sold to new owners. We contemplated what might be a new and glittering future for it.
As we motored along enjoying our cream tea and scones provided by the company, we were accompanied by flocks of swans and ducks paddling along beside us. There was really so much to see and admire from the grand architecture and striking river marinas to the equally impressive passing river vessels. One or two of them were steam driven just as they were when they had been built, more than a century ago. We turned around in the river close to Bray and set off back to our birth at Windsor. The enchanting trip had lasted for about an hour and a half. That was my short experience for the first day. We returned to Steve and the coach, just across the road in the parking bay, and set off back to our hotel in Bracknell.
Very comfortable nightly accommodation is always provided for guests taking a coach trip. On this occasion, we dined back in Windsor at a separate restaurant. It was part of the Windsor Castle Hotel and the menu was elegant and sophisticated. This establishment was centuries old but had often provided dining services for the present Royal Family, including the Queen and Prince Phillip. We felt pampered and privileged. It was not our hotel for the night but the guest rooms looked exclusive.
We set off again the next morning after breakfast. Epsom Coaches with Steve were waiting for us, right outside our hotel entrance. We were to scurry off amongst all the traffic again back to Windsor Castle itself.
Airport style security was necessary prior to entry to the Castle and grounds. It was very politely provided during these days of increased security risk. After that, we could roam as we wished both inside the Castle and the grounds outside. Windsor Castle is the outer London residence of the Royal Family.
During September 2015, the present Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning Monarch in British history. She was approaching her 90th birthday. A vast photographic exhibition covering the years of her reign is displayed in the open air. Visitors can currently view it all in the normally off limits central courtyard.
The 200th anniversary of the Duke of Wellington’s victory at Waterloo against Napoleon Bonaparte is marked inside the castle. The associated art works and artefacts make for a fascinating exhibition. Outside, the grounds are magnificent and beautifully maintained and tended. Strolling along the ramparts provide a bright spectacle of the western edge of London, Eaton College and the Thames river below.
My brief glimpse of a coach trip agenda was to end at Savill Garden. This location was about 30 minutes away in the coach, on the edge of the Windsor Great Park. We re-boarded our transport and sped off into the traffic.
Savill Garden is owned by the Crown Estate and is almost a sort of secret hideout, a place of genuine escape from the real life outside. We were met there by a guide and entertained to a light lunch in the splendid cafe in the grounds. The garden is maintained by 16 full time grounds men. They all take such amazing care in their jobs. There are more than 10,000 mature trees amongst every conceivable flower and plant. All are carefully labelled and tendered. A selection of original and unique sculptures to suit all tastes in art lie alongside the foliage. Some can be obscure but all are un-pretentious. Visitors can buy one if they like; they all have a price tag attached to them.
We were shown around the plantation by a senior director and his wife. Their enthusiasm and devotion to the garden was very obvious from the outset. They had two young daughters with them who stayed with us on our tour. It was delightful to watch them play, search and cartwheel just in front of us as we strolled. They both seemed to enjoy an enviable childhood in the garden after school.
Savill Garden is beautiful and peaceful. It seemed a genuine place of temporary escape from the growling world outside.
We returned to the hotel in the coach. Steve dropped us off and I set off back towards home. My abridged trip spread over two days had been busy and energetic. It had been a mini-microcosm of the sort of locations that can be enjoyed on a coach trip. I had met many interesting people, made many friends and found relief from the stresses and strains of present day travel on the roads. I had visited a number of engaging places whilst Steve had looked after the coach and taken care of all of the routing, parking and driving.
I have travelled quite widely in my life but I loved this coach travel taster. Britain really does have so many exquisite places to visit and a coach trip removes all of the anxieties of finding the way. It is a modern means to develop and enrich your experience of life. For more information, visit www.findacoachholiday.com.