United Kingdom – Manchester, London, Canterbury (England) / Swansea, Cardiff (Wales)
Somehow it’s been nine whole months since my last Travel Throwback post! I would ask how that happened, but since I’m the one who writes this blog, I already know the answer to that question – I just didn’t make the time! But I’m excited to be back in the bloggin’ saddle to bring you another travel adventure from long ago. About a decade ago, in fact! And would you believe that 2009 trip was to the UK? Hopefully you’re enjoying these Sep/Oct UK trips as much as I am! And this trip was special because I got to experience not one, not two, but THREE new locations.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin!
Right off the bat, this trip started out differently because we didn’t start in London! Instead, this adventure started in Manchester, though as I think I about it, I honestly can’t remember if we flew directly to Manchester from Chicago. As usual, I had flown to Chicago to meet up with my friend Ruth Ann and then we flew to the UK together from there. My memory may be cheating, but I think it was a direct flight (correct me if I’m wrong, Ruth Ann!). Nonstop or not, we arrived safely and, as usual, completely tired. But why Manchester, I hear you asking? Neither of us had been there before and we had a mutual friend in Phil, who we’d met at Gallifrey One earlier in the year and he invited us to stay with him for a couple of days, so we took him up on it! And because all three of us were going to be attending Regenerations, our favorite Welsh Doctor Who convention, in September anyway, we timed our trip so we would arrive in Manchester a few days early. Phil volunteered to drive us from Manchester to Swansea, but before that, we got to spend some time exploring Manchester.
If memory serves, we had two days in Manchester before our drive to Wales and one of those days was the one we arrived. Oddly enough, I have very specific memories of how tired I was that day, but we soldiered on so we could get out and see as much of this new-to-us city as we were able to. After getting a ride to Phil’s from the airport and getting settled and showered up, we went out to explore. I don’t *think* we had any really specific plans for Manchester, but we had fun walking around. We made our way to Piccadilly Gardens, where we hopped a ride on the Wheel of Manchester, which has apparently been dismantled, rebuilt, and dismantled again since we were there. While not as impressive as the London Eye, the day was clear enough for us to get some nice views of Manchester.
Speaking of views, the ferris wheel gave us a birds-eye view of our next destination, Manchester Cathedral. It’s a pretty magnificent, Gothic building that dates all the way back to at least the 15th century, though extensive work has been done over the many years, thanks to things like bomb damage in the 20th century. I wish I had more specific memories of what we saw there, but judging from the pictures, there’s a lot to be seen there, so definitely check it out if you get the chance.
Thanks to decade of time that has passed since this trip, I can’t quite remember what we all we did that first day, but I know we also stopped into some kind of museum or exhibition about Manchester. It may have been a temporary thing?? Would love for someone in the know to validate that though. 🙂
I do know we spent some time walking around Canal Street, which is a pedestrianized street that runs alongside the Rochdale Canal and is lined with gay bars and several restaurants. And of course, I can’t remember if we visited any notable places while we were there, so I definitely need to go back sometime.
These Travel Throwback posts are great for helping me remember what I did on each of my trips, but they also help me realize how “green” I was when I first started traveling! I didn’t pre-plan much or make a point to take pictures of signs/important info like I do now, so it’s harder to remember all the details. And, as trivial as it may sound, the fact that I wasn’t using a smartphone to look up directions, text friends about where I was going, etc. also impacts my memories, I think. It’s easier to remember where you’ve been when you’ve had to look at your phone a half-dozen times to figure out how to get there! I definitely need to get back to Manchester at some point to jog my memories and do a better job of documenting all the great stuff there is to see there! Until then though, I (and you!) can pass the time with my photos below.
After a couple of days in Manchester, we made the several-hour drive from Manchester to Swansea. As the crow flies, the drive is only about four hours, but Phil was nice enough to take us via the scenic route, through northern Wales and Snowdonia. We took the better part of the day to make the trip, both because the route itself was longer, but also because we stopped to smell the roses along the way. I remember how sunny the weather was, so we got some amazing views of countryside and rolling hills throughout the journey. My favorite memory of that countryside was the sheep who yielded to us! Roads in the UK are often pretty narrow and at one point as we were driving through Snowdonia, they were particularly tight and there were a lot of sheep around. As we came up on one of them in front of us on the road, she must have felt the vibrations of the car because, without missing a beat, she ambled off to the right to let us pass and then, once we were ahead of her, she meandered back into the road. Definitely wish I could have recorded that!
In addition to the sheep, we made some more fun memories with a stop in Conwy, on the north coast of Wales. Since we were in the middle of a road trip, we didn’t have time to properly explore everything, but what we saw was fun! There’s Conwy Castle, which was built in the late 1280s and has been unused since 1665. I would love to have visited, but we had to make do with some photos of it. Since it’s on the coast, there’s a charming quay, which is home to the Smallest House in Great Britain, which we at least got to see from the outside. We did some walking around and took some photos, but we had to hop back into the car to visit Groes Inn, which is the oldest licensed pub in Wales and just so happens to be just outside of Conwy. It was such a fun time and, although I don’t remember what I ate, I do remember it being tasty. The next time you’re in north Wales, make a point to visit!
All these years later, I’m SO glad we got the chance to take this trip! I’m also glad I have better memories of this part of the trip than I do of the Manchester part. 🙂 Enjoy the photos and then go make your own memories there!
Entering Great Orme, a limestone headland.
After a fabulous road trip, we reached our destination – glamorous Swansea! This was our fourth time here since attending the inaugural year of Regenerations in 2005 (they took 2008 off, so we didn’t go, even though we were in the UK around that time). As I’ve said many times before, conventions are really more like family reunions for a lot of us who have been going to them for years and this Regenerations was exactly that. Even though it’s much smaller than any other convention I go to (Cary, the showrunner, always maxed it out at ~200 attendees), it has the same kind of connected, family feel that I get from conventions like Gallifrey One and Chicago TARDIS. As usual, a number of friends were there (in addition to me, Ruth Ann, and Phil), including my dear friends Steve (from the UK) and Jason (from Philadelphia). We had a brilliant weekend catching up, hanging out, and talking about Doctor Who. We even went to a few panels!
Apparently, I did a really good job of taking photos of friends on this trip! I love to take lots of photos when I’m traveling, but I feel like I’m not as good at ensuring I take pictures of and with friends anymore. Glad I was in 2009 though!
Oh, what a fun time we had at Regenerations! It really is too bad that Cary (friend and convention showrunner) has decided not to do them anymore (which is TOTALLY understandable), but he has brought it back once since its official end in 2013 (that was in 2016 and I made sure to attend – I even got out to explore some of Swansea on that trip), so I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a potential future convention. Here’s hoping!
So what next? The next stop on this trip was the next new-to-me location – Cardiff! So why there? Well, in addition to being really close to Swansea, it was (and still is, actually) the home of Doctor Who as it’s produced there. We decided to pay it a quick visit (I can’t remember if we stayed for one night or two) to see some of the locations used in the show as well as to visit some of the local sights, like Cardiff Bay and Cardiff Castle.
Since Phil worked on Doctor Who, he connected us with his friend Tim, who also worked on the show, to take us around to some of the show’s locations. We had a lot of fun! Although I had certainly seen some famous landmarks in person that also happened to be in Doctor Who (St. Paul’s Cathedral, etc.), this was the first time I actually went looking for specific locations. It was also a good way to explore Cardiff!
Outside of the Who locations, we also got to walk around Cardiff Bay (which was actually a location in the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood) and pay a visit to Cardiff Castle. The castle is right in the heart of the city, which is really neat – you don’t get to see a castle downtown in any US cities! It dates all the way back to the late 11th century and wasn’t given to the city until 1947, so it saw a lot of action as a real castle. It’s full of great photo opportunities and interesting history, so definitely visit when you’re in Cardiff.
Although we were only in Cardiff for a couple of days, I have lots of vivid memories of it and I feel like we crammed a lot of fun into those couple of days. Check out the memories below!
While not a location per se, Ianto’s Shrine in Cardiff Bay is a fan-made shrine to the character of Ianto from Torchwood (the shrine is there because, in the show, the entrance to the Torchwood team’s hidden base is where the shrine is).
Visiting the Wales Millenium Centre on our second day. It’s such a cool building!
Steve and I next to the huge fountain in front of the WMC, which is part of the Roald Dahl Plass. Oh, and it’s another Torchwood location, too.
The Pierhead Building, a well-known landmark in Cardiff.
Brains is a brand of Welsh beer. Love their logo!
After Cardiff, it was back to familiar territory as we drove (courtesy of Steve, once again) to London. It was a little weird to be on a UK trip and not reach London until the fourth stop, though. But, as always, it felt like home as soon as we got there. We stayed with our amazing friends Sophie and Vince in Lewisham, so we were very close to the action of London proper. You’ll see in the photos that we hit all the usual suspects of Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and others, but we also paid a visit to the Tower of London for the first time, so I was happy to keep the new-to-me streak alive, even in London.
Relatively to the rest of the trip, we didn’t have a lot of time in London – just 2-3 days, if I remember correctly. But as frequent readers will remember, I’m happy in London no matter how long I’m there and no matter when I’m doing. Steve did stay with us for maybe the first day in London, but I *think* he had to get back to work after that. Between staying with Phil in Manchester, being surrounded by lots of friends in Swansea, being with Ruth Ann and Steve both in Cardiff, and then ending the trip with Ruth Ann, this was a really friend-heavy trip, which I loved. Since I don’t get to see any of these friends that often (and that was true in 2009, too), I loved getting the chance to see so many of them throughout this trip!
Time for London photos, methinks.
Crossing the Severn Bridge from Wales to England. Thanks for driving, Steve!
Ruth Ann and Steve in front of the giant chess board set up in Trafalgar Square for the London Design Festival.
On our tour of the Tower, guided by a Yeomen Warder, also known as a Beefeater.
Somehow that was more photos of London than I thought it would be! But honestly, this post is so long and has so many other photos that I assume anyone who’s still reading it is still in it for the long haul regardless. 🙂 Which is good because there’s still one more place to talk about! And if you can think alllll the way back to the beginning of this blog, you may remember I said I visited three new locations. Let’s talk about #3!
Whether as part of the planning process or on the spur of the moment during the trip, Ruth Ann and I decided to pay a first-time visit to Canterbury. For day trips like this, the two key criteria are proximity to London and reachability via train (since we never rented a car on our trips and since we were no longer traveling with Phil or Steve, who had their own cars), so it’s very possible we just looked online and found an easily-reachable, interesting-looking town to visit. As day trips go though, Canterbury was a nice one! There are lots of things to do there – churches, museums, high street pubs, and all the Canterbury Tales stuff, so more than enough to fill a day trip. While I don’t remember exactly how long the trip was, I suspect we had 6-8 hours to play with, so we went for some of the heaviest hitters, starting with Canterbury Cathedral. The original church dates back to the late 6th century, though it’s been extensively rebuilt over the many years since then and has a strong Gothic vibe these days (it was reminiscent of Manchester Cathedral, actually). This church is particularly important because it’s the cathedral for the Archbishop of Canterbury and is, therefore, the official home of the Church of England as a whole. It’s a really neat building and is definitely worth a visit!
In addition to the cathedral, we also decided to take a river tour. While it’s not quite link punting on the Cam in Cambridge, I find boat tours in general to be really nice ways to tour around any location (and I love being on the water anyway, so that’s a bonus). You get to see things from different angles you can’t see from land and, in most cases at least, you’ve got a fun, knowledgeable navigator taking you around. Being ten years ago, I have zero memory of which tour company we used, but the website linked above seems to provide a pretty reputable one. And when it doubt, ask the locals which one they recommend!
The last place we visited was Canterbury Castle, which is completely in ruins. I love a good ruined castle though! Ever since I wandered through the ruins of Old Wardour Castle on my first UK trip in 2003, I really developed a taste for seeing these amazing old buildings that live on as shadows of their former glory. This castle was built in the early-mid 12th century and is truly an open-air ruin at this point, but it’s so fascinating to walk through the spaces where regents, guards, prisoners, etc. lived, laughed, and even died. I honestly don’t remember if we had to even buy a ticket or if we could just walk right up to it. It’s very centrally located and I seem to recall us just walking up to it, but that may be my memory cheating again. Free or not though, pay it a visit when you’re in Canterbury!
And now, the final batch of photos. It’s been a long time coming, right??
Neat sign outside the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge (which we didn’t visit).
I haven’t measured the length of any of these Travel Throwback posts, but this one felt like a marathon! Or at least an extended jog. 🙂 The trick with these posts is trying to capture the memories I made along with a variety of pictures, just like I do with any other individual travel post, but it’s hard to do that when I’m condensing two weeks (give or take) into just the one post (where I would normally do an individual post for each day). As I review the photos, I find myself thinking “Oh, I definitely have to share THAT one!” so hopefully you feel that energy coming back to you.
In my next Travel Throwback post, it’s another new-to-me location – South America!