Tour Review: Costsaver England and Scotland Heritage
My latest adventure had me trying out our supplier Costsaver, part of the Trafalgar brand, and their 11 day England and Scotland Heritage tour. Here's how it went.
Day 1 & 2 - Hilton Hotel Olympia London - Free time in London
This hotel is located on Kensington High Street, so there are plenty of shops (coffee, grocery, etc) nearby. It's about a 10 minute walk from a couple of Underground stations, and at least a 20 minute walk to Kensington Palace and Gardens. It's not centrally located to other London attractions. The hotel itself is definitely showing signs of age. It was clean and offered an excellent selection for a buffet breakfast, but it's not fancy. Costsaver had a rep at the hotel certain times of the free days to help you make plans, if required (though, they did not give us our package with the information about this until 8pm on the night before we left London - admittedly, I didn't go looking for it either). We spent our free time in London walking a lot, enjoying some tasty eats, exploring the Tower of London, using the Big Bus (hop on, hop off) to see a bit more in sections of London we hadn't been to yet, and browsing Camden Market.
Day 3 - Hattan Court Hotel - London to St. Leonard's, with stops in Windsor and Bath
This morning was the first day we met anyone else on our tour. We had to have our luggage out in the hall for pickup (the tour included porterage) shortly after 7, and to meet the coach at 8:15. Our tour had 47 passengers (coach max would be 49) and I would say that most passengers were in their mid-60s or later. Our guide was Darren and our driver was Phil - they were both excellent. The coach was in perfect condition, with individual air vents and WiFi. Our stop in Windsor was very brief - about an hour - and was really more of a loo/snack stop than a chance to visit Windsor Castle. You could see small sections of a corner of the castle, but to truly visit it, you would need several hours at least. From Windsor, we drove through to Bath, where we had a couple of hours to free time. Then to our hotel for the even - Hatton Court, near Gloucester, on the edge of the Cotswolds. This place was really charming and our room was lovely. We had one of our two dinners included in the itinerary here with our fellow tour mates.
Day 4 - Ibis Liverpool Centre Albert Dock - St. Leonard's to Liverpool, with stops in Chester and Llangollen (Wales)
We consistently had early starts on this tour (luggage out by 7am, departure at 8am). We had a rest stop in Stafford to break up the drive to Chester from St. Leonard's. In Chester, we brought on a local guide that would be with our group until our return from Wales. We were finding the pace of walking with the group too slow, so we opted to just meet back at the bus at the designated time - which left us 90 minutes or so to explore Chester. It's a beautiful spot, with The Rows (above with all the buildings in Tudor style) is amazing to look at (and also filled with shops and restaurant, if that's your thing). Chester also has well preserved city walls, that are definitely worth the visit. From Chester, our first optional experience ($) was a trip to Wales (otherwise, you had more time to spend in Chester). This was essentially a drive into Wales, a brief stop at a scenic overlook, an hour for walking around in Llangollen, and then back to Chester to pick up people who didn't do the optional. From Chester, it was on to Liverpool, where we had the night to ourselves and a hotel in a fairly central location (across from Albert Dock).
Day 5 - Ibis Glasgow City Centre - Liverpool to Glasgow with stops in the Lake District and Gretna Green
From the hotel, we headed to England's Lake District, where we took part in optional experience ($) of a brief steam train ride (maybe 15 mins) and a cruise on Lake Windermere (45 mins or so). After the cruise, we had an hour to spend in Bowness before it was back to the bus. We crossed over into Scotland, with a brief stop at Gretna Green, before carrying on to Glasgow. Our hotel in Glasgow was centrally located enough for us to walk around, so we did not take part in an optional group meal.
Day 6 - Laggan Hotel - Glasgow to Laggan, with stop a stop at Loch Lomond and a few scenic photo stops
Today was a fairly long bus day, with inclement weather and only brief photo stops in most places, except for an optional ($) boat cruise on Loch Lomond. While the Scottish Highlands are beautiful no matter what, I expect there was much more to see hiding behind overcast weather. We took part in an optional ($) visit to Leault Working Sheepdog farm and had an hour demonstration on how the process works (and some time to visit with sheepdog puppies). From here, it was back to our hotel in the highlands. Our second included dinner was here (necessary, since there is nothing else nearby) and if you didn't go to the sheepdog demo, you just had more time at the hotel. This hotel has a rustic charm of the area, but our room did have a damp, musty smell.
Day 7 - Airth Castle Hotel and Spa - Laggan to Airth, with stops in Pitlochry and St Andrews
Our first stop of the day was an optional ($) to visit Blair Castle and its grounds. Then we picked up those who did not take part in the optional in Pitlochry, and had a time for a brief stop there. From there, it was on to St. Andrews (my favourite stop of the tour), with a visit to the 18th green at the Old Course and time to explore. From St. Andrews, it was on to our hotel for the next two nights - Airth Castle Hotel and Spa. We did not stay in the castle portion of this property, but in the other building. This property has parts that are very lovely, but it is in in need of some renovations because it's quite dated. If you did not want to eat at the hotel (this is another hotel not near much of anything), you had the option to join an optional experience ($) of a Scottish evening of entertainment and food. This was quite touristy and packed with many coach tours (at least a dozen), tables were positioned where half of the people in attendance would be facing away from the entertainment, and the service wasn't great (I think it may have been too busy for them). The entertainment was what one would expect.
Day 8 - Airth Castle Hotel and Spa - day spent in Edinburgh
Since we stayed in the hotel for two nights, we had a slightly later start at 9am. We spent the day in Edinburgh, where we first drove around the city in the bus with another local tour guide, and then an optional to Edinburgh Castle. This was the only city where we had several free hours, so we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, explored the Royal Mile, and walked around. The evening was spent at an optional ($) dinner in Torphichen. This optional included a three course meal, typical Scottish entertainment (Haggis ceremony, a piper, a highland dancer, and live music), but was infinitely better than the previous evening (and was only for our coach tour).
Day 9 - Jurys Inn Bradford - Airth to Bradford, with stops at the England/Scotland border, Hadrian's Wall, and York
We crossed back into England, with a stop at the border for a toast of whiskey, a visit to a small remaining section of Hadrian's Wall, and then on to York. We had free time to explore York, including the Shambles (said to be the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter) and York Minster, From there, it was on to our hotel in Bradford for the evening. This was a long bus day and it was mid evening before we made it to our hotel. Jurys Inn Bradford is in a nice location, but nearly everything in the area closed within an hour of our arrival.
Day 10 - Hilton Hotel Olympia London - Bradford to London, with a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon
Our last bus day of the tour had us making our way from Bradford back to London, with a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplate of Shakespeare. We got back into London shortly after 3pm, where the tour officially ended, and we spent the rest of our day in London exploring Kensington Gardens.
Day 11 - departure day
With a flight later in the day, we explored Holland Park and walked around London a bit more before heading off to Heathrow and calling in a trip.
All in all, I enjoyed this trip - England and Scotland are beautiful and I'm happy to have seen so much more of them. We're very independent travelers and we managed to pack in seeing a lot into very brief stops. You need to go into a tour like this knowing that you will not have time to see everything, so you need to pick and choose your priorities (whether that is shopping, having a sit down lunch, or just exploring). This itinerary covers a lot of ground, so there are days with a fairly significant amount of bus time. You also have to have a lot of patience for things like getting 50 people on and off the bus, checking into and out of hotels, and waiting in line. Having said all this, coach tours are a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time, without having to worry about where you are staying or how you are getting there.
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