Astral Travels Review
I simply must rave about how utterly marvellous Astral Tours is. Of all the money we spent on our June 2006 trip to London, the £70 each we shelled out for this day tour with Astral was the best value by far. They have any number of tour combinations available. We selected the Stones amp; Bones tour. Now, they do have a tour where you can actually walk among the stones at Stonehenge, but that wasn’t running the exact days of our trip. It is an option for you maybe though.
I won’t go over every tour option here, you can explore at your leisure on Astral Travel’s website to see which will best suit your own whims… but I will tell you all about that Stones amp; Bones tour package.
Astral Travels picked us up right at our hotel at around 7:30 in a very nice Mercedes coach. After picking up the other folks at their hotels, we then headed over to the meeting place in central London to begin the tour. Folks were sorted to their respective coaches dependant upon which tour they had booked. Now, my one moment of consternation was when I saw their brochure in the coach. The price listed for our tour was like £5 less than we had paid at a website called Stonehenge Tours. I suggest you call Astral Travels to book and get the bottom dollar price directly. Still, it was worth it.
From London we headed out with Tony. Now I gotta tell ya, this guy is a load of fun. He is full of offbeat information and that made the initial hour and a half drive to our first stop go very quickly. The man’s got jokes, let me tell ya.
Our first stop was Old Sarum Castle. This stop was part of the reason I had picked this particular package. They all go to Stonehenge, but this one had the castle. I’m a nut for castles. Unfortunately, this is actually the spot where a castle used to be. DOH! William the Conqueror built the place when he made his way here in 1066. He was right keen on castle building everydamnwhere. Problem here was that he chose to build on a high hill and dug a system with two motes as protection… only ummm… there wasn’t any water. Oops. Big cathedral here once upon a time within the castle grounds, what used to be here though has been taken stone by stone further down a bit to build what is now Salisbury Cathedral (our next stop.) What is still here is a very low layer of walls, the moats-cum-ditches, and the privies. There is also a very small gift shop with some pretty cool books on the area. I bought one called Dark Knights amp; Dingy Castles by Terry Deary for £7.99. It’s hilarious.
Next was Salisbury Cathedral in the medieval town of Salisbury, naturally. This is a very old cathedral just rich in history. You do not have to be the religious sort to appreciate this place. I’m not at all into any religion of any kind and I enjoyed this stop a great deal. The one part that did tend to irk me a bit was an overhead announcement to please stop your walking and pray a minute with them. Huh? Well, ok, this is their stomping grounds. I stopped and glanced around at the way-cool architecture while they all prayed. No harm, no foul. There is a goodly sized gift shop here with lots of neat stuff and not all of it is church related at all. There is also a restaurant if you’re hungry. Plus, this is where the original Magna Carta is housed. If you don’t know what that is, or its significance to American history then you need to stop reading this review right now and go freakin educate yourself. Really. We stayed here for about an hour, plenty of time to wander about.
From there we made our way to Woodford Valley and a delightful old pub for lunch. While on the bus we had filled out our menu requests so the food was ready to go when we arrived. Glorious old wood tables here and just a great atmosphere all around. The place just feels like my idea of merry ol’ England, yanno? I had the Ploughman’s Lunch of salad, ham, and cheddar cheese with various fruits and it was perfect for this gentle warm afternoon of sightseeing. Lunch is included in the tour price (as is all admittance fees) but if you crave a pint of ale, you have to go buy that yourself at the bar.
After lunch we stopped for pictures in Uppavon. This little village has just the cutest thatched-roof buildings. I kind of would have liked to have explored a bit here perhaps, but we had two major attractions yet to go so pictures it was and off we went again.
Stonehenge was next on the agenda. I was actually a bit disappointed in this stop. Oh, not by the tour company at all, but by Stonehenge itself. I mean, it was cool and all, but it wasn’t nearly as awe inspiring as our next stop.
After Stonehenge we passed through the Chalk Hills and were amazed at the figure there in the side of the hill. It was a perfectly rendered huge white stallion made by cutting away the turf to expose the natural chalk underneath. WOW. I would have liked to have seen a few more of these chalk figures, actually. There are suppose to be quite a few more in the area. Tony stopped on the side of the road and let us take some photos, then off we went again.
The highlight of this tour, to me, was this last stop: Avebury. I am telling you now, folks, that if you have time for only one stone circle thingy… make it this one. Avebury is a quaint little farming town, which is completely inside the largest stone circle discovered to date. There are several smaller henges inside the outer henge also. This is 14 times the size of Stonehenge, I kid you not. Also, it has not been roped off anywhere. You can walk around here to your heart’s content, stopping to have a nice brew at the Red Lion there on the corner. There is also a nice (but over priced) gift shop there next to the small post office.
After Avebury it was a deadhead back to London where we were dropped right there in Paddington, about a block from our Hotel at around 18:00. Perfect. It was a perfect day.
Even with the pound being double the dollar at the moment, that £70 each was a bargain for the day we had. I would not take it back for the world. I do highly recommend you sign up for one of these tours. Five Full stars for Astral Travels.