Travel Throwback – The Very Beginning, May 2003 UK Trip

Mid-May 2003
United Kingdom – Southend, London, Brighton, Bath, Glastonbury, Cheddar, Weymouth

Welcome to my first Travel Throwback post! At various times in the past, I’ve thought about how I could revisit some of the trips I took before I started writing this blog and now I’ve finally decided to put (virtual) pen to (virtual) paper and do it! This month marks FIVE YEARS since I started this blog (feel free to check out my first post for funsies) and I’d like to think I’ve done a good job of chronicling the journeys I’ve been on since then. But I took my first international trip a full decade before this blog, so what better way to celebrate five years in the travel blogging biz (um, not that I get paid for this) than to take another trip…down memory lane? I didn’t always take as many pictures back in the good ol’ days and I’ll almost certainly get some of the details wrong, but you weren’t there, so you won’t know the difference anyway. πŸ™‚

And what better place is there to start than at the beginning? Picture it – May, 2003…..

The story of my first international trip starts in a less-than-surprising place – a Doctor Who convention! As I’ve mentioned numerous times in this blog, I’ve always had a love of Doctor Who and that love led me to start attending conventions even earlier than 2003 – way back in 2000, in fact. I’ve met some of my very best friends at these conventions and it was those friendships that got the ball rolling for my first trip. You see, this was a group trip, though with all of us coming from different places:

  • Steve – I met Steve at that first convention in 2000. At the time, he lived near London in Southend (today he lives in Brighton), so my friends and I were going to see him and explore England together.
  • Cory – I had just met Cory at my second Gallifrey One in 2002. He’s a fellow native Iowegian, though he lived in LA at the time (and has moved a few times since then).
  • Zoe – you know, I can’t remember exactly what year I met Zoe! I definitely knew her by 2000 though, so I may have also met her at that first Chicago TARDIS. It was either that or an Iowa Doctor Who fan event (she lived in Oklahoma at the time, though has now lived in the UK for several years).

With the players in place, plans were made! If I remember right, we started hatching plans at Gallifrey One in February. Given how far in advance I book trips now, it’s crazy to think I would have just started planning three months in advance, but hey, it was my first big trip, life was simpler, and airfares were cheaper.

Knowing that Steve lived in the UK, we thought that would be the perfect excuse to plan a trip. And not only would the four of us get to hang out for eight or nine days, but we would also have a built-in tour guide, host, and driver in Steve. πŸ™‚ Haha! While that is actually partially true (Steve loves to drive, so he was happy to play driver, and he also offered up his place as crash space for us for part of the trip), it was really the time hanging out together that we were most looking forward to.

And that’s how it started! I booked my flight on Student Universe for a whopping $470 round-trip (crazy, right?!) and coordinated plans with Zoe – we both flew to St. Louis (me from Omaha and her from Oklahoma City) and then sat together on the flight to London (with Cory in LA, he had much better flight options, so I believe he took a direct flight, landing in London around the same time Zoe and I did). These days, I always fly Delta and I like to sit as close to the front of the plane as possible, but back then, I wasn’t loyal to any airline and I didn’t care where I sat, so Zoe and I found ourselves on an American Airlines flight, sitting allllll the way in the last row of the plane (that’s where Zoe wanted to sit and I was happy to oblige). Even though I was in a standard seat, eating basic food, and listening to the flight attendant tell the person in front of us that she couldn’t paint her nails on an airplane, the whole experience was kind of magical for me. I was sitting next to my good friend on a flight to my (soon-to-be) favorite country, where I would get to explore and have fun with two other great friends. What could be better?!

So what did we actually do on this trip? While I certainly have memories of our activities, what I don’t remember is how much planning we did ahead of time. I think we at least had a rough order of operations in mind though. For example, we knew we wouldn’t be spending much time in London until the second half of our trip and we also knew Zoe was planning to meet up with a friend in Yeovil one night but I don’t think we had much more planned out beforehand. Here’s the rundown of our itinerary, with travel provided by Steve and his car, known as Beep the Meep:

  • Land in London (at Gatwick, not Heathrow), meet up with Cory (I think he landed first), and all get picked up by Steve
  • Head to our friend Bill’s house for tea and conversation
  • Onwards to Brighton (I can’t remember if we stayed overnight here, but I don’t believe we did)
  • (Taking a) Bath – ha! (I’m pretty sure we went here right after Brighton)
  • Thence to Glastonbury
  • Next stop, Cheddar
  • Passing through Yeovil (to drop Zoe off for an overnight visit with her friend), while us boys continued to Weymouth
  • A visit to Old Wardour Castle on the way back to London
  • London!

I definitely have strong memories of some of the things we did, but as you may have guessed from the slightly imperfect timeline above, I don’t quite remember all the specifics. Some of the most memorable moments include:

  • My first time having tea in the UK at Bill’s house. Nothing notable about the tea, but quintessentially English!
  • Seeing the BLUE water and pebble beach in Brighton.
  • Staying in a hostel in Bath. We stayed in a room with, I think, six twin beds (two of which were bunk beds). Since there were four of us, we all stayed in one room, with no other guests. The bathrooms were shared, so it had a distinctly dorm flavor to it. I also remember having a conversation in Spanish with two other guests, who were visiting from somewhere in South America (I think).
  • Wandering through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. Also, traipsing up a BIG hill to get to the Glastonbury Tor.
  • Stopping in Yeovil to drop Zoe off (as mentioned above) and also to get what turned out to be some emergency car service. Beep the Meep had been acting a bit funny, so Steve stopped by an auto shop, where he was promptly told the brakes were in such bad shape that they couldn’t let us leave without fixing them. So, we got them fixed!
  • Seeing my first, true castle.
  • Spending time in London, sparking a love affair with my now-favorite city.

Wow, this trip down memory lane is starting to meander a bit, yes? Let’s let some of my pictures take over the story now. Keep in mind I’m squeezing the highlights of an entire trip into one post, so there are a lot of pictures, but I think you’ll enjoy them.

Waiting to leave Gatwick. Note the very stylish digital camera!

I’m not sure what this building is, but it’s somewhere in Brighton.

My first (of many, over the years) look at the blue sea in Brighton.

Another first glimpse – Brighton Pier! I will fully admit that my photo-taking skills have evolved quite a bit over the years, but I’ve only recently edited these 15-year-old photos, using the skills/technology I have now.

A sculpture on the sea front called Kiss Wall.

My first look at Brighton Pavillion. This is also the only trip where I actually went inside it!

Moving on to Glastonbury – walking through the ruins of the abbey (Steve in the distance for scale).

I know it’s just a sign, but it was cool to see this! There are all kinds of signs like this dotted around the ruins, with some areas chained off to show the shape of the structures that are no longer there.

They tried to look holy (we were in an abbey, after all), but I don’t buy it. I mean, look at Steve’s face! :p

Starting our trek up to the Glastonbury Tor. I told you it was a big hill! And this is where I got my first taste of that famous British scaffolding – it’s everywhere! So we didn’t really get a good look at the building itself, which just gives me a reason to go back someday.

Almost at the top!

Looking over Glastonbury from the hill. The long walk up was worth it!

Back down at the base of the hill, we walked through the Chalice Well. Evidence suggests the well has been in use for over two thousand years. Its water is said to have healing properties and the well produces 1.1 million liters of water/day and has never failed, even during droughts.

More of the well and gardens.

This is the well itself, which is normally covered by an ornate lid, but it was being restored during our trip.

Moving on to Cheddar now, specifically to Cheddar Gorge & Caves. This skeleton is known as Cheddar Man and his bones date back to the Mesolithic Era.

Exploring the caves.

I love the way these stalactites and stalagmites look with the moss and reflection from the water!

Our trip through the caves ended with a little interactive experience called Crystal Quest. Cheesy (cheesy…Cheddar…get it?? :D), but kind of fun.

From the caves, we climbed Jacob’s Ladder to get a view of the area around Cheddar Gorge, which is the biggest gorge in England. Love these guys! And if you thought ONE digital camera dated the Zoe’s photo above, try THREE digital cameras.

Me and Steve.

Next up, Weymouth! This was after dropping Zoe in Yeovil to stay with a friend overnight there, as well as after the aforementioned emergency car repair. It’s a cute seaside town on the south coast of England and I’d love to go back sometime!

The Weymouth Jubilee Clock.

During our cave tour, we learned how, way back when, people would put coins in cracks in cave walls/ceilings. I can’t recall why, but I think it was to measure if the cracks were getting bigger (the thought being that the coins would fall out if the cracks got bigger). Steve and I came across this crack by the beach in Weymouth – I had a nickel and he had a 5p coin, so we tested that theory. I wonder if those coins are still there??

This is the cute B&B we stayed in for one night in Weymouth. At the time, it was called Grainger’s, but it’s now apparently called Hudsons Guest House. It was very much a mom-and-pop place and the owners weren’t pleased at the idea of three guys sharing one room, but we convinced them somehow.

After picking up Zoe the next morning, we made our way to Old Wardour Castle, originally built in the 14th century. My first castle!

The remains of a HUGE fireplace/chimney. I think this was in the kitchen.

This 18th-century stone grotto sits behind the castle, on the edge of the woods.

A fabulous photo of my friends in a random corner of the castle.

In another random corner, Steve used the timer on his camera (very fancy and useful – no smartphones yet!) to snap a photo of all four of us. I think this is the only photo I have with all of us in it!

Although it didn’t have a timer, my camera did have a pretty powerful zoom, so I took this photo of Zoe on the ground while I was up in the highest part of the ruins.

On our drive back to Southend, I snapped photos of some of these chalk hill figures around Wiltshire.

Back in Southend! I wanted to include a couple of photos of Steve’s flat, since it was our home for a few days. This is the living/work/sleeping area where we hung out and us boys slept.

The little put-you-up bed Zoe slept on. And yes, that’s the kitchen. πŸ™‚

Finally getting to walk around London! I think the fact that we didn’t get to London until the end of the trip made me enjoy it that much more.

My first look at one of my top London happy places – Trafalgar Square.

Big Ben! In the flesh, so to speak.

Chinatown, right by Leicester Square.

I’ve worked in retail for so long (even back then!) that I just had to snap this photo.

Checking out the Fitzroy Tavern, which you may remember me mentioning in a post from my August 2017 London trip.

I *think* we were there during the monthly Doctor Who meetup, but I can’t remember for sure. There were definitely a lot of people there!

I honestly don’t remember if this was inside the Fitzroy or elsewhere, but I think it was the Fitzroy. And we picked up more friends!

My first photo in the Underground! Zoe said this photo looked like the title card from a hot new TV show called Tottenham Court Road. πŸ™‚

Zoe feeding squirrels in a park (I think we were in St James’s Park, but I can’t quite remember). And yes, they literally ran right up her leg to get to the food in her hand. While she was doing that…

…Cory was feeding the pigeons!

I can think of no better way to round out the photos from this trip than with one of my favorite London view – Tower Bridge!

Whew! That was a really fun journey to re-live. I look back on this trip with a lot of fondness and I’ll carry the memories and love of travel with me for the rest of my life. I’m so thankful to have taken this first journey with an amazing group of friends! Funnily enough though, even though we’re all still friends, I’ve never traveled with any of them since (though I’ve certainly seen them many times). I see Steve most every year at Gallifrey One and generally on my UK trips. When Zoe moved to the UK, she went to Penzance, which is pretty far from London. I never made it there, but she moved close to London a few years ago, so I was able to catch up with her on a recent UK trip. Cory moved around, got married, and had kids, so he’s been the hardest to pin down! But I’m confident our paths will cross again. And even if they don’t, that’s what social media is for, right??

I hope you enjoyed my first Travel Throwback post – there will definitely be more to come! In the meantime, I’d love to hear more about your travel experiences in the comments below. How did your love of travel develop? Where did you go on your first trip? What destination are you still looking forward to visiting? No matter what your own journey is, I’m happy to have you here as I revisit mine.

9 thoughts on “Travel Throwback – The Very Beginning, May 2003 UK Trip

  1. The first major trip I took was when I went to the Victorian Villa to experience my first mystery weekend back in April 2004. Now that Ron no longer hosts mystery weekends and Mr. Holmes has returned to England for good, I believe the time is finally right to share the tales of my two investigations with the master sleuth.

  2. Hi Jeff, I enjoyed your walk back in time as well as seeing pictures of you and friends at that time! The trip looks very amazing, especially for a first trip!!


    Sent from my iPad


  3. I remember my first major overseas trip, my family and I were traveling to Paris, France for a month (for my aunt’s wedding- she married a Frenchman). I know crazy right? It was a once in a lifetime experience that’s for sure! We spent one of those weeks in Germany as well. It was the best trip I have ever taken! I look back on the experience fondly, and I can’t wait to make more of those kinds of memories. Thank you for your post it was great!

  4. Hello there, I found your travel review and I have to say it made me smile. We took over Grainger’s guest house back in May 2008 and set about updating the places it took us 3 years to remove and re-educate folk in to having a more relaxed experience the last job on our list was a name change. Hopefully we now offer a more friendly experience.

    1. Wow, how random that you found my review! Especially knowing the review itself, while published in 2018, actually dates back to 2003! I admire your Google skills. πŸ™‚ To be honest, it wasn’t that much of an inconvenience (since we convinced them to let us stay in the same room), but it’s a memory that sticks out in my mind, so I’m pleased to hear you’ve made the process easier and friendlier since you took over. I shall have to look you up the next time I’m in Weymouth! I’m actually going to London next week, but I don’t think I’ll make it down there on that trip. πŸ˜‰

  5. Hello there. I stumbled across your travel page. I am the owner of Hudson’s Guest House in Weymouth. We bought the business in 2008 it was then called Grainger’s. We changed the name of the place because we felt it needed updating and we needed move away from the old style guest house as travellers requirements changed and we no longer needed to be involved in guest lives. I enjoyed your few words about the place and hope you are still travelling although maybe not at the moment. Thank you again and stay safe.

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About thejeffelston

Based in St. Paul, MN and love to blog about travel. Comment, follow, and join me on my journey!