I was invited to join a group of colleagues to enjoy a visit to Wiltshire as part of a coach trip provided by Anderson Tours based in London. The trip was going to be a concentrated mixture of sightseeing, travelling and dining over three days. We all met up and boarded the coach on the Victoria Embankment along the edge of the river Thames.
There were about 19 of us in total and we all came from different backgrounds. Some of us had previous experience of enjoying coach trips and some of us did not. All of us, as a group, represented a wide range of ages. Young, elegant people up to the not so youthful, like me. The mixture of all us together aboard the fairly confined seating area inside meant that we quickly formed liaisons. We all exchanged information about our relative backgrounds and what we did. We expressed our enthusiasm for the impending visit. A bright, clean new coach has a way of bringing people of all ages and backgrounds quickly together into a common society. We set off for the M4 to head westbound, away from the capital.
Swindon was to be our first stopping point, about two hours from central London. The journey gave us the time to talk further with each other and develop our new friendships.
On arrival, the first visit on the list was the Steam Museum of the Great Western Railway in Swindon. This was an impressive exhibition occupying the vast factory space of the now disused engine and carriage factory from a previous century. A tour guide provided us with much fascinating information about all the old steam locomotive manufacturing processes. The guide described how the very labour intensive manufacturing techniques were once used. He discussed the impressive rate of steam engine production and displayed some of the primitive, yet forever lasting, machine tools that had been used.
The main gallery of the museum displayed many fine examples of steam engineering that had been created by the factory. There were mighty locomotives weighing hundreds of tons. With the right maintenance, they could be made to last almost for eternity.
On the day that we visited, luckily for us, the museum space was also being used for a display of the most impressive Lego models. I thought of my childhood, many years ago. The Lego bricks had been turned into electric trains, local architecture and sections of the countryside. There was also an enormous model of the old QE2 ship about three meters in length. I wondered if it would actually float. The local children, the next morning, were going to have a field day.
The second visit of the afternoon was spent enjoying the beautifully rural Lydiard House & Park nearby. The peaceful surroundings of the wide open parkland and the quiet characteristics of the medieval house and church were restful. They gave us all time to catch up from our early start and to share our experiences of the day. Grant Tester, the Anderson Tours driver, took care of the coach with all of our baggage still safely aboard.
We all spent the first night in a local, well presented hotel provided as part of the coach trip. We dined as a group enjoying fine food and wine. With our shared experience of the day starting in London, we seemed to know each other so well. It seemed somehow comforting to make new friendships in such traditional style. Before going to bed, we agreed the starting time in the morning with Grant. We had a fairly busy schedule and it was going to be rather early.
The next day, after breakfast, we met at the coach at roughly the appointed time. We were to stay somewhere else that night and Grant loaded all our baggage in the hold. Then next place to visit was Stonehenge, just over an hour away in our coach. I had visited this location before but, so many years ago, when I had been at school.
We drove to the parking stand by the brand new, twenty first century visitor center at Stonehenge. It contrasted so well with the ancient, pre-historic and mythical site that we were about to visit. I had always thought of Stonehenge as a place where visitors became aware of the sun and the greatness of the universe. This day, it was teeming with rain with no sign of any sunlight. Somehow it was a little strange. The view of the massive, ancient rocks emerging from the gloom of the low, dull cloud enhanced their primeval origins. It made me think about the very beginning of time itself.
Stonehenge is certainly a world class visitor site to travel to. There were people from many countries and all seemed to sense the timeless mystery of the feature that had its origins going back to 3000 BC. We could only wonder and try to guess about the earliest people who had begun its construction.
Next on the list was Salisbury Cathedral, not so far away. The tour planner had included this iconic structure in the trip because it is the home to one of only four original copies of the Magna Carta or Main Charter. This year is the eight hundredth anniversary of the signing of this constitutional and legally binding document by King John at Runnymede. All of us on the coach trip wanted to view this historic exhibition.
Salisbury Cathedral is so interesting for its own sake as well. It has the tallest, most impressive church spire in Britain. The guide in the Cathedral pointed out the slight bending in the supporting flying buttresses due to the vast weight of the spire above. We all felt a little more comfortable when he assured us that structural engineers make very regular checks to ensure the integrity of the building.
Just across the park from the Cathedral stands Arundells, the former home of Prime Minister Edward Heath. It is a fascinating place to be shown around. Arundells is preserved in exactly the style left by Heath before he died. It contains all of his possessions precisely where he had kept them. The house trustees preserve all of his chosen artworks, furniture and many other articles that easily describe his life. All of us on the trip learnt so much about Edward Heath’s background and past life achievements that we had never known before. Arundells really does provide an extraordinary visit if you are ever in Salisbury. It certainly did for me and I was never one of Heath’s great supporters.
One of the best things about joining this coach trip was that everything was done by somebody else. The driver was the expert on all of the locations and parking. He purchased all the fuel and did all the loading. He represented his company very well and he became our friend.
I think that to join a coach trip to visit interesting regions is just as attractive to younger people as it is to the more mature. These trips represent very good value for money and provide so many opportunities for new, like minded friendships to emerge amongst such diverse groups of people. They are so very safe for travelling on the roads and sound, overnight accommodation is all included in the price.
We set off for our second hotel, The Hilton, not so far along the road. After Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Arundells and indeed one or two other places, we all felt that we should meet up in the bar before dinner. That was one of the better ideas of the evening.
Another start the next morning would finally return us to London. But first, we were going to stop off at Bradford on Avon, just off the M4. This is such a charming and so well preserved picturesque town. The autumn colours embracing the ancient Saxon church amongst the parkland was probably one of the most photogenic sights of the trip.
Further along the route towards home, we visited the village of Lacock. There is a great rambling Abbey on the edge of this tiny village surrounded by beautiful gardens where we could all stretch our legs. The Abbey supports a startling root to human evolution and development. It was were the scientist William Henry Fox Talbot literally invented photography. You can take a picture for yourself of the very window that was used for the first ever photograph of all time.
My brief trip aboard the Anderson Tours coach taught me that to travel in this way has so many advantages. I made so many new friends and saw so many places I would never have thought of going to. They were all so interesting and often inspiring. It was a splendid way to visit a part of Britain without having to endure the stresses of running, parking and directing my own car. The view of the countryside rushing by from a lofty perch high up in the coach provided so many opportunities to see so much more as well.
Wiltshire was a wonderful county to visit but so are many other regions in Britain. My trip was provided under the banner of the Coach Tourism Council that is promoting this form of holiday in so many ways and for so many companies. For more information visit www.findacoachholiday.com.