The big day! Kris and the girls are headed to Warner Brothers Studio to drink butter beer on platform 9 ¾ while I'm taking my mother to Thornbury to hang out with a bunch of dead ancestors.
I realize when you're traveling alone you can squeeze the connections quite a lot and everything still works out – I've proven this more than once. When you're traveling with a large group you need more time. Time to get ready, time to get out the door, time for bathroom breaks, time for snacks etc. The larger the group the more time you need. You also need more time when one of those people is in a wheelchair or when they're elderly. Both of our groups had one in each category so we planned in a lot more time.
To get to Victoria Coach station we'd ride the bus for 15 minutes and then walk for 15 minutes as opposed to catching another bus and paying again. I'd planned in an extra hour just in case something happened as it always seems to. Seven minutes into our walk mother needed to find a restroom which took time. We then set off again and I wasn't worried because we still had 40 minutes of buffer since I'd already bought the tickets and only needed to retrieve them. How hard could it be to walk up to a machine and pull the tickets out right before boarding the bus?
Upon arriving at the station I asked the information booth where the booth was to pick up our tickets to Bristol – she told me gate 21 so we started walking. Along the way we saw a desk with the bus company name on it and asked if we could get our tickets, the lady ignored us and when we persisted she said no, we needed to keep walking to gate 21 so we did. At gate 21 we found our National Express booth and requested our tickets. That lady said she can't give us our tickets and we need to go to the ticket booth. I let her know that we'd already purchased them, we just needed to pick them up. She insisted we walk all the way to the other end of the station and stand in line. We're down to 20 minutes of buffer.
After booking it back to gate 1 and the ticket booth we see 50 people standing in line to talk to humans and the line isn't moving. We also see two ticket machines with a line of 10 people so we jump in line and soon find out one machine isn't working. We wait, I look at my watch. We wait some more and I look at my watch. We're down to 10 minutes before the bus departs, we have no idea where it's leaving from and there's still 5 people in front of us. On average it's taking 2 minutes per person to get tickets. If we don't make this bus we're not going because we can't afford to buy more tickets and my mother will be crushed. Going to Thornbury was the main reason she came and it's coming down to a poorly managed bus company. I tell our story to the guy in front of us who lets us go first and we retrieve out tickets in under 30 seconds. I'm not sure what the other people were doing but they weren't very good at it.
Still not knowing where our bus is we walk as fast as possible back toward gate 21 and as we pass gate 6 I see Bristol out of the corner of my eye on the sign but as I turn my head the sign changes to a new destination. Outside there was a bus with the door closed and a woman walking toward it. I ran after her to ask if she's going to Bristol which she is. We lets us on and pulls out of the gate.
- Had I not asked the gentlemen in front of us if we could cut we wouldn't have made it.
- Had I not glimpsed the sign as it changed we wouldn't have made it.
- Had I not planned an extra hour into our schedule we wouldn't have made it.
Traveling without a guide requires a certain amount of strategy which paid off that day.
The bus exited London on a strange elevated roadway above the city which by itself wouldn't have been that out of the ordinary if it wasn't for the elevated car dealerships along the road. I kid you not, there were car dealerships 3 stories above ground so the people driving could see them. I've never seen that before.
We continued on through what is largely flat forested land where it's easy to imagine little meadows, castles and knights in shining armor.
We arrived in Bristol on time into a relatively small bus station where the city buses also pull into. Starving we picked up a sliced meat sandwich and ate it over a garbage can while waiting for the #79 city bus to arrive. The 79 drives through Bristol and several other little towns and past a shopping mall to get to Thornbury. Not terribly exciting but we did get to see a bit of Bristol which looked a bit eccentric and quaint. I wouldn't mind spending more time here at a later date.
Being prepared often includes using technology but in the case of Europe I couldn't rely on GPS as I didn't have a phone with data to load maps. I did however print out the stop names and times we'd be there so I could keep an eye on our progress by looking out the window at each stop name. It's hard to tell where the towns start and end as they're not clearly defined so the stop names worked out pretty good up until our stop. They'd called it the retirement center stop and on my list it was named something else. The next stop I didn't recognize nor did I recognize the one after that or the next couple after those. At this point I knew we'd gone to far so I ran up to ask the driver. He said “Oh no, it's too far for the town center you'll just need to stay on the bus until we get back there. There goes another hour.
Then the bus stopped and he motioned me to the front. “If you take a left here and walk about 10 minutes you'll be to the town center'. And off we went walking in the middle of a place that didn't look familiar to find a town we've never been to. He was right though and we were back on track.
Technology is amazing, I just have to say that. Before going anywhere I'll bring up Google Streetview and wander around the streets so I have an idea where things are. This works in towns that Google has driven through so some smaller streets aren't available. However, once we got to town I knew where I was and we proceeded to the Thornbury Castle.
I didn't really have much of a plan on how we were going to get around but there were three things on the itinerary – see the old family graves in the old cemetery, see the castle and go see the old family home. The castle and cemetery were within walking distance, the family home wasn't.
As the story goes my mother's family the Tayers were granted land by the King of England in the early 1600's for services rendered. We don't know what those services were but at the same time the King was having a castle built and this was a small town. One theory is they helped build the castle. Next to the castle is the church of St Marry's where most people of that era were buried and some of her relatives are supposed to be there too so this was our first stop.
We walked through the cemetery at the church and found graves from the 20th century, the 19th century and even the 18th century but nothing from the 17th. Maybe it was just too long ago and those spots had been re-purposed. On a whim I decided to go inside the church to see what it was like. This was likely the church that my ancestors attended. Inside we realized the floor was made of old gravestones and one of those stones belonged to on of her relatives! Another on the wall also belonged to the family. Both of these people lived in the late 1600's.
Happy, we went next door to the castle and wandered the grounds. Thornbury castle is part ruin and part hotel. Upon entering the hotel the concierge told us to wander the halls and take a look see but we couldn't go into any rooms as they were occupied. I had planned initially to stay a night in the old castle at the tune of $300 per room per night just to say we did it but budgets being what they were I canceled that. It would have been neat but there's nothing THAT fabulous about the castle from an experience point of view. We did enjoy sitting in the gardens as her family may have done once 400 years ago.
There were rumors that the castle had a pathway and door straight into the church so royalty didn't have to mix with the commoners. It's not there now but I think we saw signs of something having been there at one point.
Like I said earlier I wasn't sure how we were going to get to the old family home and to be honest I didn't have an address for it either nor had we seen any taxis anywhere. Mother said even if she didn't get to see it she'd be happy with the trip so we left the castle. As we were walking out a taxi was dropping off people. Knowing an opportunity when I see one I stopped the driver before he got back in his cab and asked how much it would cost to for 2 miles and he said 20 quid so we got in.
It remembered from Google maps where the old family home was in relation to the castle and pointed the taxi driver down a small country road. We drove for a lot longer than I thought and I figured I missed the street. I didn't remember exactly what it was but I knew I'd know it if I saw it. I told the taxi driver to turn around as we probably missed it and as he turned I saw a sign for Mumbleys Road.. That's it! Who could forget Mumbley's Road?
Thirty seconds later we're standing in front of a grand old house that was built by and lived in by my mother's family. It was a great moment.
I don't know how all of this worked out but it did. Our taxi took us back to the castle and was very interested in our old house. Before we left we ducked in and told the concierge that we'd found it and showed him a photo. He acted like he was being paid to care and then we left.
Our bus back to Bristol was driven by the exact same driver we had earlier who informed us that a round trip ticket would have been cheaper. In Bristol we had about an hour before our bus left so we stopped into a little fast food place where everything was 99p. That's right absolutely everything was a bit French looking and cost 99 pence.
We got back to London barely able to drag out feet another step. Kris and the girls were already there and their day worked perfect. They made all of their connections, drank butter beer and had a great time.
In the morning we take the Standsted Express to catch our plane. I've planned in an extra 2 hours of time that we don't need to ensure everything goes smoothly.