Our group of 11 merry Badgers arrived in England during the Wimbledon finals, and we departed as the British Open began. In between, we made a sport of exploring the English countryside and the hustle, bustle, and history of Oxford.
Our first full day in England. It was a great day of discovering the northern Cotswolds, which included a stop in Stratford-upon-Avon: William Shakespeare’s birthplace. Amazing experience. The English countryside is such a tranquil setting. And our hotel, the Old Swan and Minster Mill, captured that essence perfectly, thanks to a babbling brook, rolling hills, and serene gardens. That evening, five of us Badgers hopped a cab to venture out to a local restaurant. I ordered pizza — so English, I know.
We visited the southern Cotswolds on our excursion today. We even drove by Prince Charles’s home. But the real thrill was the evening’s Q&A forum with local residents. It was a lively and entertaining discussion that ran the gamut from politics to pop culture. Afterward, our local presenters joined us for a delicious dinner (the crème brûlée was the best!) at the Old Swan.
Downton Abbey Day! We first stopped at a church, then a library that was used as a hospital on the show: a huge treat for fans of the show. There was even a film crew on site doing a documentary about Downton Abbey, and a couple of travelers in our group were asked to participate. It was then on to Highclere Castle, the actual “home” on Downton Abbey. Impressive! From there we traveled on to our second lodging place, the Macdonald Randolph Hotel. While the Old Swan was set in a quiet, peaceful area, the Randolph was in the heart of the city of Oxford — a nice contrast. After checking in, I took a stroll along Oxford’s pedestrian-only street: State Street, eat your heart out.
Had to lace up our walking shoes for today’s excursion: a walking tour of Oxford. From exploring the world-famous Ashmolean Museum to visiting some of Oxford’s historic colleges and buildings, it was like taking a walk through time. During the evening, our Badger group took a walk down memory lane as we reminisced about the UW during our WAA reception. Afterward, we headed over to the Red Lion restaurant for a group dinner and additional friendly conversation.
This day was truly one for the bucket list. It’s not every day that you get to meet actual royalty — unless, that is, you travel with a bunch of Badgers. Our day started with a tour of Blenheim Palace — an impressive structure in its own right, but also where Winston Churchill was born. Now, our tour guides throughout this trip were all great, but nothing beats hearing firsthand stories. That’s exactly what we got when Lord Charles Spencer-Churchill (Winston Churchill’s cousin) met our group to give us an exclusive mini-tour. It was beyond a highlight for all of us — and learning that he makes these appearances only with groups represented by our tour partner made it that much more special.
It was a day at leisure for the group, so I took one last opportunity to soak in the sights, sounds, and history of the magnificent city of Oxford. That evening brought our farewell reception, held exclusively in an Oxford college. It was quite a privilege, and one that our Badger group really appreciated. After a final rendition of “Varsity” by our Badger travelers, it was off to bed and then off for home.