A Work Trip to the UK - Wales and England

Once again, I’m a few weeks behind on getting posts done. A couple of weeks ago I had a work trip to the UK planned to do some training with a few of our partners, at our main distributor in Wales. Since I was going to be there for almost a full week, I decided to stick around the weekend after and visit with my friends Mark and Rachel, and see their new daughter Arwen. 

I flew into Heathrow from Vancouver, getting in Monday afternoon. I was renting a car, so took the shuttle over to the rental car area and picked up a funkying looking Toyota hybrid. It ended up being a pretty interesting car, and quite nice to drive. The drive out to Wales took about 2 hours, but took me a little longer as I needed to stop along the way and do a conference call. So it was about 7:30 when I pulled into the St. Pierre Marriott Hotel & Country Club. 

The hotel is a beautiful old country house. The original house was built by William Lewis, and extended by his son George, between 1475 and 1508. There’s an old church that’s part of the complex, and there are two golf courses on the property. The old course actually holds profession events on the European Tour. I didn’t see much after I arrived (with it being dark and all), but I got a view of the old part of the hotel while I checked in, and headed to the restaurant for dinner after getting settled. 

The grand entrance to the St. Pierre Marriott Hotel & Country Clubus

The outside of the front entrance

And the inside, leading to the main lobby

The lovely fireplace in the main lounge

My room was in an outbuilding (newer additions), and looked over a small pond on the golf course. I made an early night of it, as I was pretty tired and wanted to get onto the right time zone. 

My room was in a separate outbuilding, much newer than the main hotel.

I did have a nice view of the pond and part of the golf course.

 And there were swans

And there were swans

Tuesday was the day the training was supposed to start, and for which I made all my travel plans. The UK sales team moved it to start Wednesday, so I had the day to myself. I got an early start (time zone issues I think), and worked for a few hours in the morning. But since it was such a lovely day, I stopped at about noon and went out and played a round of golf on the Old Course. It's a beautiful golf course, with lots of huge, old trees. I would rather have seen it during the summer or fall, as most of the leaves were off the trees, but still, it was pretty amazing. 

After getting the round in, in like 3 1/2 hours (and playing pretty well really), I went back to the room and got some more work done. I then met my coworker Tim for dinner, as he had arrived that afternoon. We got organized for the training over the next three days. 

The next few days went by pretty quickly. We were in class all day, then broke to get a bit of work done before heading out for dinner as a group. The guys at Westbase did a great job of picking some good restaurants - Indian the first night, Greek the second - the food was excellent, and we had a good time. Before our plans had changed, I had already arranged to head over to Royal Tunbridge Wells to hang with Mark and Rachel, and to meet Arwen, so I took off around lunch time on Friday. 

Before heading out to the east, I made a couple of quick stops in the area to check out a couple of local sights. The first was in the town where the Westbase office is located, Caldicot. There’s an old castle that I had been wanting to check out on previous trips. Caldicot Castle is an extensive stone medieval castle in the town of Caldicot, Monmouthshire, in southeast Wales, built near the site of Harold Godwinson's former Saxon castle by the Norman earls of Hereford from about 1100. Sadly the castle was closed for the season, but I was able to walk around it, and see a bit of it. 

The main entrance to Caldicot Castle.

Inside the main gates, there was a lovely lawn and access to more of the fortifications.

More of the older part of the castle.

That didn’t take much time at all, so I headed about 20 minutes north to Tintern Abbey. Tintern Abbey was founded by Walter de Clare, Lord of Chepstow, on 9 May 1131. It is situated adjacent to the village of Tintern in Monmouthshire on the Welsh bank of the River Wye, which at this point forms the border between Monmouthshire in Wales and Gloucestershire in England. Falling into ruin after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century, the remains were celebrated in poetry and often painted by visitors from the 18th century onwards.

One of the facades of the ruins of Tintern Abbey

I had just missed the end of the fall colours - it would have made this spot even more spectacular

A view that almost gives a sense of perspective

And it was totally worth the short drive up. The site is amazing, and you can only imagine how spectacular it would have been in it’s heyday. It’s a shame that these incredible buildings were pulled down. I didn’t have a lot of time, so I just walked the outer perimeter, rather than paying to go inside. I’d love to go back and to it properly. Also, if I had only been there a few weeks earlier, the colour on the trees of the surrounding hills would have been breathtaking. Still, it was great to see, and I think some of the pics turned out well.  

After that, it was a 3 hour drive across the south of England to see my friends. The drive was pretty easy and thankfully uneventful. I got to their house in the late afternoon/early evening and got to meet little Arwen. She’s very cute, having just been born in June, and mom and dad seemed to be coping pretty well. We got caught up, ordered in some dinner, and had a pretty relaxing visit. 

Rachel, Arwen and Mark

Sadly, The family had other commitments over the weekend, so they were heading north on Saturday morning. They had most graciously offered me their place to stay until Monday when I was flying back home. So that gave me a couple of days to explore the area on my own. So Saturday morning we got up and I entertained Arwen while Mark and Rachel got packed up. After that, we walked into the town center and had an excellent breakfast. Then the family headed out, leaving me to my own devices.

Hanging out with Arwen

Brunch

Since the day was half over by that time, I thought I would take the train into London and spend the day checking out my old haunts. The trip in is pretty easy - a little more than an hour - and dropped me at London Bridge train station. That was a perfect jumping off point for me near the South Bank, so I started my day with a visit to Borough Market. When I was living in London, visiting Borough Market was part of my usual weekend routine. It was crazy busy, so that limited how much time I was interested in sticking around. 

 The Shard and Borough Market

The Shard and Borough Market

From the market, I headed down to the South Bank and walked along the river. This was my old neighborhood, when I lived in London, and I wanted to see what was new. I wandered over to Southwark Cathedral, then along the river past the Globe, the Tate Modern, and the Millenium Bridge. I stopped for a bit and had a drink on the patio at the Founders Pub on the river. 

Eventually my wandering took me down towards the Jubilee Bridge, where there was a bit of a Christmas market going on. I had some mulled cider, a bit of lunch and checked out what was going on. From there I headed across the bridge towards Charing Cross, and then up into Trafalgar Square. I popped into the National Gallery for a bit (as I always do) and then checked out the craziness in Leicester Square. 

Since it was almost Christmas, I wanted to check out Oxford Street, so I walked up that way. It was packed with people doing shopping, and I made my way into Carnaby Street, which is always festive this time of year. I made a stop at a local whiskey shop and had a drink, before it was time to go find a sports bar for the big game.  

The big football match of the weekend was Liverpool Chelsea, and so I found a good sports bar to watch the match. Liverpool got the first goal, but Chelsea equalized late, ending in a deserved draw. I wasn’t wanting to make it too late a night, so I headed back to Charing Cross and got the train back to Tunbridge Wells.  

Sunday morning I needed to get a run in, and Rachel had suggested a reservoir about a 15 minute drive away that looked interesting. So I drove over there and got my run in pretty early. It was a nice spot, even if the trails were a bit muddy. Lots of people out rowing on the lake, people walking their dogs, and I think they all found me a bit odd out running.  

A map of my run arounf Bewl Water

I still had a lot of time in the day, and Mark had suggested the town of Rye, about an hour’s drive south at the coast. The drive down was nice, mostly through the countryside on smaller roads. I got into town and parked the car to wander around the town.  

As advertised, it’s a pretty little town. Interestingly, the silting of the rivers over time has lead to the town now being much further from the coast than it was originally, making the small castle less relevant to the defence of the coast. I started by checking out the old walled gate, then walked the cute old high street and checked out some of the shops. There was a great bookstore that I spent some time looking in.  

The old gates to the old city of Rye

There were lots of cool cobbstone streets throughout the town to explore

The church and church yard

Rye Castle

I wandered up past the little church, and down to the Rye Castle, which is now the local museum. It’s a good little setup, with some interesting things to see. I spent a while checking it out, then wandered around the town for a while. Eventually I made my way back to the “oldest pub in Rye” where I had a late lunch. It was starting to head towards darkness, so I made my way back to Tunbridge Wells and had a relaxing evening in.  

Monday wasn’t very exciting, as it was my day to travel back to Vancouver. I went for a run in the morning around Tunbridge Wells, did a little bit of last minute shopping, and got myself packed and organizaed. It was about a 3 hour drive back to the airport, and then the long flight home.