Summer Days in London

We spent a few more days in London before and after our Cambridge trip. We stayed at the lovely Hayden Pub and Rooms in Notting Hill. We loved this establishment – nicely appointed rooms, extremely friendly and accommodating staff, upscale pub, great neighbourhood and the bonus of being only a 20 minute walk from Kristin’s flat in Maida Vale.

And they offer you a complimentary drink while you check in. 😃

We are Downton Abbey fans and had planned on a Downton tour with Brit Movie Tours in the spring of 2020. That trip of course was cancelled, but the company refunded our payment and gave us a 20% discount code for the future. We were happy to take advantage of that this trip and booked the small group (maximum 15) tour.

For the tour, you board the bus (despite the fact that there were only 13 of us on the tour, we actually had a full size bus) in mid-London and travel for ~1.5 hours to the village of Bampton (with a comfort stop at a very impressive motorway rest stop). On the way, our guide Emma provided a lot of interesting information about the show and the locations and played a Downton highlight reel to heighten our excitement for seeing the sites.

Bampton is where the majority of the Downton Village scenes were filmed. Emma gave us an informative walking tour of the main shooting sites in the village including the exterior of Downton hospital, the village pub, and the former home of Matthew Crawley. The village green that is the location for so many scenes is actually quite a bit smaller that it appears.

Our Brit Movie Tour guide, Emma
One of the two ‘Downton Village’ pubs
The ‘Cottage Hospital’
Crawley House

The second part of the walking tour included a guided visit to the exterior and interior of the local church where the weddings occurred and Matthew Crawley was laid to rest.

Although in the show, it appears to be a short walk from Downton Abbey to Downton Village, it is actually about a 45 minute drive to Highclere Castle. Highclere is used as the main Downton Abbey set and on the way, we learned about its 1000 year history and life ‘above and below stairs’.

Tour guides are not allowed to lead tours within Highclere Castle, but our tour provided us with a very helpful self-guided information sheet. On the ground floor, we visited the library as well as the music room and the smoking, drawing and morning rooms. The dining room features a table that has twelve leaves that can be added to increase the size and a painting of Charles I that is an original van Dyck. On the first floor (which in North America would be the second floor), we viewed a number of the family bedrooms. Interestingly, Lady Mary’s bedroom was actually filmed on a set as so many scenes took place there. As well, the kitchen and servant’s dining room were also sets – the current kitchen is of course modernized. Photography was not allowed in Highclere so I have no pictures to share with you.

We wandered the grounds of the estate for a while. However, as the day we took this tour was a record temperature setting day in the UK (a high of 40.5 C had never been seen before), we soon found a spot in the shade to relax, have a bite to eat and visit with some of the others on our tour.

One morning, we strolled around Notting Hill, a lovely area of course made famous by the movie of the same name (I made a point of watching the movie on our return flight and recognized many of the locations). Portobello Road runs almost the length of Notting Hill from north to south. It has one of the most famous street markets in the world and is home to one of the UK’s most diverse communities. It has a rich history dating back to the 19th century with millions of visitors visiting the market each year. We were not there on market day, but there were still a number of street vendors set up along the street.

We spent a few hours at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The V&A is large, with over 150 rooms and more than 12 miles of corridors. It has something for everyone. We briefly toured the sculpture and Asian exhibits on the ground floor, but then travelled up to the first floor where we enjoyed the British Galleries, that travel through British history. Our favourite gallery of the visit was the Design 1900 to Now exhibit. We found many very interesting items to view.

The Hereford Screen – built in 1862 with the most modern materials that the Industrial Revolution could produce

On our way from The Hayden to central London, we passed through Kensington and Hyde Parks a number of times. These parks provide a lovely respite in the centre of a very busy city.

Morning coffee and scone, Italian Gardens, Kensington Gardens
Queen Victoria statue and Kensington Palace
Parakeets in Kensington Gardens. Shortly after this, a parakeet flew right at my camera – I think he thought that my red phone was an apple!
The Flower Walk, Kensington Gardens

This is the first time we have been in London when Buckingham Palace was open for tours. This normally occurs only in the summer months when the Queen is not in residence (although we have heard that she is spending very little time there now so perhaps the tour schedule will expand). We booked our tour for the first slot of the morning (0930 h), which proved to be a good plan as it was becoming much more chaotic in the area when we exited from our tour.

The tour of the Palace is excellent. You are provided with an excellent audio guide and can then take your time travelling through the State Rooms while listening to the information. Again, photography is not allowed in the Palace. Here are a few shots of the rear of the Palace where the famous garden parties are held.

When we first travelled to London in 1983, the Elizabeth Tower, which houses the Big Ben clock, was shrouded in scaffolding. Fast forward to our next visit 35 years later in 2018, and again, scaffolding. Same thing on both of our visits in 2019.

But finally, the scaffolding is gone and we were able to view the tower and the clock in all of their splendour!

After viewing Big Ben, we quickly left the area as it was swarming with summer tourists. We have visited most of the central sites and will leave any revisit until we return in the off-season in the future. If you want to read more about London, check out our earlier blogs on this trip or these blogs from previous trips.

We had some great meals in London. Here are just a few highlights.

Sunday Chicken Roast at The Hayden
Pizza at Cafe Laville, Little Venice

And then it was time to say goodbye to the UK – but you know we will be back! Thanks for reading about our trip – we hope you enjoyed our musings! We will be back soon!

If you are planning on visiting any of the areas we visited on this trip, I will post a ‘tips and recommendations’ blog and feel free to send a message with any questions.


Bev & Harvey

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