Stephen and I have travelled around the UK on holiday three times now, and each time we have structured our trip around visits to castles, abbeys and other ancient monuments.
The main reason for this is simply that we both love history and get immense enjoyment from being physically present in this history. It’s just magic being able to walk around a castle and imagine what it would have been like to be a labourer carefully placing stones. We marvel at walking in the same rooms as Kings and Queens and heroes from the past.
There are also side-benefits of this approach to travel.
Culture: we are often visiting sites that are off the beaten track and out of the way. We go through (and stay in) small villages as well as big cities, which we find is slower, less stressful and more likely to lead to interactions with locals. There is nothing like popping into the local establishment, sitting down with a baked potato and eavesdropping.
Exercise: visiting castles means climbing, since fortifications are typically on top of hills. It’s great to break a 2-3 hour drive with a good trek up a hill, usually combined with hundreds of spiralling steps.
Nature: a lot of the locations we visited are out on peninsulas or in out of the way places. We get to walk through some beautiful countryside and enjoy amazing views. And because it’s winter, some lovely sunsets (at 4.15pm!).
History: we get to learn a lot about a place by reading about the sites we visit. The UK historical societies provide really good interpretative guides and panels, and we do some of our own research on the areas we visit. We’ve learned a lot about the history of the region, and it’s really brought to life when you are standing on a city wall, walking through a cobbled street, viewing a village from a castle tower.
Connecting the dots: visiting one important site teaches you about that place, but visiting lots of places all over the UK, Ireland and Iceland has allowed us to connect the stories together. The same people appear in the stories but from different points of view – the invader and the invaded.
Slowing down: It’s not a fast way to travel – we have been here almost 5 weeks and needed every minute! We’ve covered a lot of ground – by car, bus, train and plane. it’s quite slow (veering off on side quests constantly) but it’s a lot of fun to be spontaneous.
The good news is that after three visits (technically six for me), I feel like seen everything I need to in the UK. Now I’m thinking about the next round of trips … maybe Scandinavia to connect up the Viking part of the story. Better start saving!