Historic Bath and Literary Oxford

A Journey through the South of England

April 19 through 29, 2020

 
Join Politics and Prose for a trip through Historic Bath and Literary Oxford, with stops at Stonehenge, Highclere, and many other picturesque sites in the south of England.

 

You needn’t be a Jane Austen fan – or even an Anglophile -- to thoroughly enjoy next spring’s trip to Bath and Oxford with Politics & Prose. Jane Austen wrote often of the highly mannered social life in Bath of the 19th century, and she lived there for several years as well. In tracing her steps, we’ll visit the Pump Room, where one “took the waters,” and the Assembly Rooms where men and women flirted ever so lightly.

Of course, the “waters” wouldn’t have been there without the Roman Baths, where we’ll see the pools and columns and stonework from 2000 years ago.

We’ll also get a glimpse into how people lived during that time, with our visit to 1 Royal Crescent, a graceful period townhouse, and a fascinating view into the Fashion Museum. Our hotel is located on quiet Queen Square, away from the tourist bustle but only steps from where Jane herself lived, and where the Jane Austen Centre is located. (Afternoon tea served daily.)

But this corner of England holds much more than just Bath. We’ll spend a day at Highgrove, Prince Charles’ primary residence, where we’ll have a walking tour of his extensive – and highly personal – gardens, and lunch there as well. We’ll also visit Chavenage, a 17th century house still lived in by the family. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve surely seen it, as it was a major site in the filming of the BBC show Poldark. A member of the family will take us around on a very personal tour and – unlike any other historic house we’ve ever visited – even invite us to sit in the ancient chairs.

Finally, the stone circles of Avebury and Stonehenge are nearby, and we’ll visit both. Avebury is a huge ring of stones surrounding the little hamlet of Avebury, and you can walk up and touch the stones. We can’t touch anything at Stonehenge, but we can get an up-close view of the mysterious circle.

On the way to Oxford for an optional extension, we’ll drive to Highclere, better known as Downton Abbey. It’s only open to the public 60 days a year, but we’ll be there to go inside the house, walk the gardens, and have a light lunch. In Oxford, we’ll visit some of the most well-known colleges with their grassy courtyards, ornate cathedrals and dining halls that inspired many Harry Potter scenes. We’ll have time to visit the world’s oldest university museum, the Ashmolean, and the Bodleian Library, plus a number of places where the BBC series Morse was filmed. Finally, we’ll have a day at Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born. The current Duke and Duchess still live there, and we’ll visit their private apartments as well as grand ceremonial spaces.

itinerary

Who should come on this trip?
Do I have to pay a single supplement?
I’m coming with a spouse or partner, and we want to share a room. Do we both have to pay the full rate?
How many people will be on the trip?
When is the trip?
What flight should I take?
Can I arrive before the trip actually starts?
Why do you call this a “trip” and not a “tour”?
Tell me about the trip leaders.?
What is the Hotel Francis like?
Is there internet access at the hotel?
What will the weather be like?
What to wear?
Why aren’t lunches and dinners included in the price?
Do you require us to buy travel insurance?

Q. Who should come on this trip?
Anglophiles, of course. This is a perfect trip to take by yourself; you’ll make new friends and will always have people to do things with. Or come with a friend or spouse or partner. The trip is also perfect for any small group that wants to travel together but doesn’t want the hassle of planning it all in advance.

Q. Do I have to pay a single supplement?
No. This trip is priced based on each person having his/her/their own hotel room.

Q. I’m coming with a spouse or partner and we want to share a room. Do we both have to pay the full rate?
For people who share a room, we offer a discount of $150 each. We’ve priced the trip primarily for people to have their own rooms, because English hotel rooms just aren’t as large as those in the U.S. Of course you can share a room if you prefer.

Q. How many people will be on the trip?
The maximum number of people is 18, so you won’t feel like you’re part of a huge group. Our groups are typically 12 – 16 people, and we have two trip leaders..

Q. When is the trip?
The trip begins on Monday, April 20 and ends on Sunday, April 26, 2020. Since most flights to England are overnight, you’ll probably fly out from your home city on Sunday, April 19, to arrive Monday morning in England.

Q. What flight should I take?
We suggest you fly into Bristol, England, as it is closer to Bath than London Heathrow. At this writing, the airlines that fly from Washington Dulles to Bristol include KLM/Delta through Amsterdam, United Airlines through Brussels, and Aer Lingus/British Airways through Dublin. If you’re staying on for the optional extension to Oxford, you may want to book your return through London Heathrow. British and United fly direct back to Washington Dulles. We’ll provide you information about how to get to Bath from the airport.

Q. Can I arrive before the trip actually starts?
Certainly. If you’d like us to book you into the hotel a day or two early, just let us know, and you’ll pay the hotel directly.

Q. Why do you call this a “trip” and not a “tour”?
We’ve included the things we like best about group travel, including the convenience of having someone plan daily itineraries. But there are lots of things we dislike about tours, so here’s how this trip is different:
- You won’t be seated at long tables for big group meals at “We accept bus tours” restaurants.
- You won’t have early morning calls to leave the hotel.
- You only unpack and pack once – we’re not touring, but staying in one hotel where we can really get to know the area well.

Q. Tell me about the trip leaders.

Sheila Campbell of Wild Blue Yonder has been organizing informal groups of travelers for years – often on hiking trips in France, England, Italy and Spain. She’s managed trips for Politics & Prose for six years. She lives in Washington, DC, where she has been a volunteer at the National Gallery of Art for many years. She spends a couple of months a year in Europe, mostly in England, France and Italy.

Barbara Wendell has also traveled extensively and worked and traveled as part of her job as a focus group facilitator. She is very experienced in working with groups. She lives in Annapolis, MD, where she is involved with tourism as a docent and volunteer with Historic Annapolis.

Q. What is the Hotel Francis like?
It’s a contemporary hotel by Sofitel that has been built in a group of historic town houses. It’s located on the beautiful and quiet Queen Square. Breakfasts are served to order, and the bistro in the hotel is quite nice for a casual dinner. It’s within easy walking distance of every place we visit and many restaurants in Bath.

Q. Is there internet access at the hotel?
Yes, free wifi comes with your room.

Q. What will the weather be like?
It’s hard to tell. Spring could be cool and sunny, or cool and rainy, with highs likely in the 50s or 60s. (It was cool and sunny in 2019.) Our advice is to come prepared for just about anything. Bring an umbrella, a jacket and – most important of all – very comfortable walking shoes.

Q. What to wear?
You needn’t dress up for this trip. Wear your most comfortable clothes for walking. Just about every place we go will be casual.

Q. Why aren’t lunches and dinners included in the price?
Restaurants that accept tour groups are usually the last places we want to eat. On many days, we’ll be at a property with a café that features local favorites. They’re quite affordable, and you can decide when you want to break for lunch. In both Bath and Oxford, you’ll be able to choose from both casual and nicer dinner places. We often make lunch the biggest meal of the day and eat lighter at night. But you’ll choose where you’ll eat, when and with whom.

Q. Do you require us to buy travel insurance?

We strongly encourage you to buy travel insurance, both for trip cancellation and medical coverage and evacuation. Please read our Terms and Conditions carefully to see our cancellation policy. Also be aware that trip insurance companies are very strict about what they will and won’t reimburse you for, so read their policies closely. You generally have to purchase trip insurance at the time you pay your deposit.

Please read this information carefully, as payment of a deposit represents your acceptance of the following Terms and Conditions. 

Trip Prices
Trip prices include hotel accommodations on a single or double occupancy basis, breakfast at the hotel, daily transportation to locations as outlined in the itinerary, entrance fees to museums and houses with the group as listed in the itinerary, evening social events to plan the next day’s activities, and the services of the trip leaders as outlined in the trip description.

Not included in the trip price are entrance fees to museums and other attractions not expressly included in the itinerary; taxis or other forms of city or public transportation; airfare and airline baggage fees; lunches and dinners; hotel, restaurant or airport tips; costs of passports and visas; personal expenses such as beverages, laundry or room service; internet wifi except as established in the trip description; airport transfers or any other services not specified in the trip description.

Please note that we cannot guarantee any special requests for hotel rooms.

Registration and Payment
The payment of your deposit confirms your reservation. Deposits may be paid by check made out to Wild Blue Yonder, Inc., or credit card via PayPal. There is a 3% surcharge for PayPal.

Your deposit is refundable for two weeks from the date it is received by Wild Blue Yonder, except for deposits made less than 60 days before a trip departs; those deposits are completely nonrefundable. Two weeks after the receipt of the deposit by Wild Blue Yonder, deposits are not refundable for any reason and will be forfeited if you cancel your trip reservation. Cancellations must be made in writing by either letter to Wild Blue Yonder or email to scampbell@wildblueyonder.biz. Cancellations become effective on the date they are received by Wild Blue Yonder.

Once your reservation deposit has been paid, you will receive a confirmation email and further information to help you plan your trip.

We reserve the right to cancel any reservations that are not paid in full at any time after the final payment is due. If you make your reservation after the final payment due date, payment in full will be required immediately.

Final payment for this trip is due December 20, 2019.

Cancellations and Refunds

For any cancellations made before December 20, you will forfeit your deposit but will be refunded any other payments you have made. If you must cancel your trip, the effective date of cancellation will be upon our receipt of your notification, which must be made in writing either by email or letter. No refunds are possible after December 20, 2019.

We strongly recommend that you purchase trip cancellation insurance when you pay your deposit for this trip.

Travel Documents
You are responsible for securing your own passport, valid for at least six months after the completion of your trip. Your passport must also have at least two blank pages for entry and exit stamps.

Health and Medical Issues
We welcome all travelers, but you must be in good health to participate in our trips. This trip requires a reasonable amount of walking – up to a mile, possibly uphill or on uneven pavements or cobblestone streets and streets without curb cuts. You must be able to climb several flights of stairs and board buses on your own. We regret that we cannot provide individual assistance for any person with reduced or serious mobility issues; in such cases you must be accompanied by a companion who will assist you, and you will have to incur the costs of their trip, plus taxis or any other special transport you might need. We suggest that if you use a wheelchair, this trip is probably not the right choice for you, as the transport does not accommodate wheelchair use.

If you are unable to navigate this amount of walking, you will not be able to participate fully in the trip, and we suggest you choose another type of trip. We cannot provide individual alternatives to the planned group activities. If your fitness level does not allow you to keep up with the group and/or travel on public transportation, you will be responsible for planning your own activities and for any additional costs incurred (for instance, but not limited to, personal taxis, train tickets, and entrance fees).

Trip Insurance
We strongly recommend that you purchase both trip cancellation insurance and traveler’s medical and evacuation insurance for your trip. Should you have to cancel your trip after you have paid in full, we cannot offer refunds other than specified above, because we will have already paid the costs of your trip to our vendors.

Please note: Medicare is not valid outside of the United States.

Arrival and Departure Dates
It is your responsibility to make sure you arrive on the specified trip start date. We cannot refund part of your trip if you arrive late or leave early, unless you have notified us of your different start or end date by December 20, 2019.

Responsibility
The liability of Wild Blue Yonder and Politics & Prose, individually or jointly (referred to hereafter as Trip Planners), is strictly limited. In no event will the Trip Planners be liable for amounts in excess of the amounts payable to the Trip Planners in accordance with the terms hereunder, nor will Trip Planners be liable for any consequential indirect or incidental damages arising from this agreement. Trip Planners purchase accommodations, transportation and other services from independent suppliers not under our control. We serve only as agents for these suppliers in securing trip arrangements, and therefore will not accept responsibility and liability for wrongful, negligent or arbitrary acts or omissions of these independent contractors, their employees, agents or representatives.

Trip Planners are not liable for injury, damage, death, loss, accident, or delay that may be caused by events not within our control, including but not limited to, without limitation, acts of terrorism, war, strikes, defects of any vehicle, adverse weather conditions, natural disasters or the negligence or default of any third party, nor for personal accidents.

In consideration of, and as part payment for, the right to participate in the trip, the undersigned, on behalf of himself, his dependents, heirs, executors, administrators and assigns, agrees to release Politics & Prose, Wild Blue Yonder and their officers, employees, representatives or agents, and the tour operator and its officers, employees and agents, from liability for personal injury, death, property damage or loss suffered by any person in connection with this tour, even if caused by the negligence (but not the reckless, willful, or fraudulent conduct) of tour staff or other related persons or entities. In addition, by registering for this trip, the applicant certifies that he or she is mentally and physically capable of full participation in this tour. By registering for this trip, the participant agrees to all of the Terms and Conditions herein.

Trip Planners reserve the right to correct errors in advertised prices. We reserve the right to cancel an advertised trip, decline to accept a reservation or remove a person from a trip if it is determined by us to be in the best interests of the health, safety or general well-being of other trip participants. Should you be removed, you will not be entitled to any refund for unused or missed services or costs incurred as a result of termination of your travel arrangements, including, without limitation, return travel, accommodations, meals and incidentals.

We will make every effort to conduct our trip as planned, but we reserve the right to make itinerary and other changes as necessary. If unforeseen circumstances require us to change a hotel, we will make every effort to select alternative accommodations of the same quality. The forgoing terms and conditions and all aspects of the relationship between Trip Planners and you shall be governed by the laws of the State of Maryland.

 

Itinerary for Historic Bath

Note that as of this writing some events have not opened for 2020 scheduling yet, so do expect this itinerary to change as they get finalized. Also, we may make changes to this itinerary in response to unexpected closings, road conditions, weather or other unforeseen events.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Depart from home for your overnight flight to England. We suggest you fly to Bristol, which is much closer to Bath than London Heathrow. (Note: if you are staying on for the Oxford extension, you’ll want to book your return from London Heathrow.)

Monday, April 20

Arrive in Bath. Because people will be arriving at different times, you’ll have the afternoon free after checking in to the Sofitel Hotel Francis.

6:00pm Welcome and orientation in the hotel.

Tuesday, April 21

9:45am We’ll walk through the Royal Victoria Park to visit One Royal Crescent, a period house decorated in the styles of 1776 -1796. It will give us an introduction to the everyday life of people in Bath in Jane Austen’s lifetime. From there, we’ll stroll into town for lunch.

2:30pm Meet back at the hotel for our private walking tour of Bath, focused on the places where Jane Austen lived and frequented while in Bath. It will also give us a very useful overview of the history and geography of Bath itself.

6:30pm This evening we’ll have a guest speaker: Diana White, chair of the Bath and Bristol group for the UK Jane Austen Society. She’ll focus on everyday life and Jane’s status as a woman at the time.

Wednesday, April 22

9:30am We depart this morning for Highgrove, the primary residence of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla. We’ll tour the extensive gardens, primarily designed by Prince Charles in cooperation with his gardeners. For lunch, we’ll have tea at Highgrove, and you’ll have time to browse the gift and garden shop. We’ll return to Bath with a drive through the countryside.

6:30pm. At our get-together this evening, we have a special treat: a cheese tasting planned for us by Paxton & Whitfield, Briton’s oldest and most respected cheesemonger; they were established over 200 years ago. Winston Churchill once observed, “A gentleman only buys his cheese at Paxton and Whitfield.”

Thursday, April 23

9:30am This morning we’ll walk over to the heart of the ancient city to visit the Roman Baths, dating from the period when the Romans occupied England. They discovered the hot springs from the Mendip Hills, and built a temple on the site in 60 – 70AD. The baths grew up around the temple for the next 300 years, and it’s now a very well-preserved site of antiquity.

Afterwards, you may want to have lunch in the Pump Room, a social hub of Bath in the Georgian era. You may also want to visit Bath Abbey, located very near the baths.

2:45pm We’ll all re-convene at the Fashion Museum, situated in the same space as the Assembly Rooms where – in Jane Austen’s time -- people danced, gossiped and flirted each evening, You’ll have an audioguide to take you through the exhibits of fashionable dress for men, women and children from the late 16th century to present day.

6:30pm We meet for wine, conversation and a little book talk.

 

Friday, April 24

9:30am We depart for Stonehenge, the mysterious stone circle that dates from about 2500 BC. The walk around the stones allows for both dramatic scenes and closer-up views. (Note that we hope to have a private access after-hours tour, allowing us to be inside the stone circle itself with an expert. But at the time of this writing, the after-hours tour hasn’t been confirmed. We will, however, visit Stonehenge no matter whether it is in the evening or during the day.)

2:00pm We drive to Avebury, the largest stone circle in Britain; it entirely encircles the village. Here – unlike at Stonehenge -- you can approach and touch the stones, walk among them, sit in the fields or picnic there like the locals. There’s also a small National Trust property, Avebury Manor, first built in the early 16th century. The formal gardens and topiary were redesigned in the 20th century. There’s also a recently restored chapel in the town.

5:30pm Return to Bath in time for dinner. We won’t have a meeting tonight.

Saturday, April 25

10am We depart for our visit to Chavenage, which you may know as “Trenwith,” the home depicted in the Poldark TV series. The house dates from 1576, and was once owned by Thomas Seymour, the man who married King Henry VIII’s last wife, Katherine Parr, after Henry died. The bedroom used by Oliver Cromwell has been retained in the state he left it since the 17th century; it’s said to be haunted. Our tour will most likely be conducted by a member of the family who still occupy the house. Afterwards, we’ll have tea in the house before returning to Bath.

Your last afternoon in Bath is free for you to explore on your own. You might want to walk across the famous Pulteney Bridge to the Sydney Gardens, where Jane Austen loved to stroll. You can also visit the eccentric Holburne Museum there. Or just enjoy the shops in Margaret’s Building, a short and historic street near the Royal Crescent.

Sunday, April 26

Today you depart for home or, if you’re staying on for the optional extension to Oxford.

10:00am We check out of the hotel and board our transport to Oxford. On the way, we’ll stop at Highclere, made famous as Downton Abbey in the TV series and movie of the same name. We’ll have a light lunch on the property, a tour of the house, and time to walk through the gardens and – of course – visit the gift shop.

3:00pm We leave Highclere to continue on to Oxford, where we’ll settle into our hotel, the Mercure Eastgate, located right next to several of the Oxford colleges and the Botanic Gardens.

Monday, April 27

10am We leave the hotel this morning for our private walking tour of Oxford. We’ll learn about the history of the town and the university, visit a college or two (including one of the dining halls that inspired Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies), see some sites associated with the Morse and Inspector Lewis TV series, and hear some very amusing anecdotes about famous folk who have lived in Oxford over the centuries.

You’ll have the afternoon to explore Oxford on your own. Among your options are visiting the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology, the world’s first university museum and the Bodleian, the historic primary research library for the university. We also love to stop in at Blackwell’s bookstore for coffee, or wander through the Botanic Gardens just beyond our hotel. There’s also a lovely country walk through meadows and along a shady river from Christ Church to the Botanic Gardens.

5:30pm We gather in hotel to walk to Magdalen College for the six o’clock choral evensong, conducted in the chapel which dates from 1474.

Tuesday, April 28

9:30am  Today we leave Oxford to visit Blenheim Palace, one of England’s largest houses. It’s the current residence of the Duke of Marlborough. It was built between 1705 and 1722, and was the home of the Churchill family for 300 years. It was named after the Battle of Blenheim in 1704. At the end of the 19th century, it was saved from ruin by the ninth Duke of Marlborough, with money he came into when he married Consuelo Vanderbilt, the American railroad heiress.  With luck, we may also have a tour of the private apartments of the current duke and duchess. 

Wednesday, April 29

Depart for home.