A Royal Roadtrip

Kristin Cragg

© Copyright 2018 by Kristin Cragg

Kristin and husband.

This summer my husband and I took an incredible trip. We'd saved up and had been given the gift of babysitting by my 
parents, so we wanted to make the most of the ten days we had. As a result, we decided to take a road trip through the UK. The following story is narrated by our travel companion, The Prince, who we brought along in lieu of our children.

I recently went on the trip of a lifetime, and it didn't cost me a dime. I saw castles, museums, Druid ruins, and a whole lot of the English countryside. I experienced all kinds of theater, learned about royalty, commoners, and even murderers. But mostly I learned about literature; in fact, our trip was lovingly dubbed the “reading road trip.”

But I should back up. You see, I'm not a real person. My name is The Prince, and I just got back from a ten day trip overseas. My people, Kristin and Greg, decided to bring me along on their road trip around the UK. I was shocked they brought me: all of 4 inches tall, purple and green with a strange sideways cylinder head - what did I have to offer? It turned out, quite a lot.

Kristin and Greg had decided to take this trip to retrace some of the steps Kristin took when she visited the UK during college. After graduating college in 2006, she and Greg got married, and she followed Greg to Japan to teach English, so it seemed like a fair trade-off that she got to pick most of the destinations. Not that Greg minded; he was happy to have the chance to visit some of the places she'd talked so frequently about. And me? - I was just happy to be along for the ride.

The day before our flight, Kristin and I dropped the kids off at her parents' house. On the drive, she told her kids that she'd be taking and sending pictures of the places they were visiting, and that they should keep an eye out for me in the pictures. Ah! I was ambassador for the kids. How fun!

After we dropped off the kids, we headed back home. Kristin packed, meticulously checking her list. I was shoved unceremoniously into the sunglasses pocket of her backpack, where I remained for the night. You'd think it would've been cramped, but it's not too bad when you're an excellent contortionist like me. The sunglasses pocket was just one of many homes I had throughout the trip, but it was the most comfortable, so I didn't mind.

The next day Greg and Kristin packed up the car. My backpack was flung into the trunk, and we were on our way. My people dropped off the car at long-term parking, and we checked in for the flight, handing off our extremely heavy luggage, much to everyone's relief. Next, I accompanied my people through security. I had a full body x-ray, which was a bit unnerving; it was like the security people could see right through me.

We found our gate and then settled in at a cafe for a quick lunch before the long flight. Kristin pulled me out of my backpack and took a picture of me with their lunch before shoving me back inside.

I came out once more to take a selfie on the plane before take off, then I rested in my pocket until the flight landed. I slept quite well in the dark. My flight was much more restful than my peoples'; Greg was able to get a bit of rest, but Kristin's seatmate passed the hours flirting with one of the flight attendants, then turned to her to chat. I didn't hear any of it at the time, but I did hear Kristin recount the story to Greg once we had arrived. I was sad I missed it – her seatmate, a professional in the adult industry, had some fascinating stories (not work-related, thankfully).

After we made it through customs and gathered our luggage, we picked up our rental car. As we waited in line and filled out the paperwork, our agent let us know that we had been upgraded to a bigger car, which sounds great, but when you need to drive on the opposite side of the road in an SUV when you're used to driving a compact, it's a little intimidating. As we found out later though, it was for the best. Our bigger car included a GPS, which we couldn't have survived without, and some of the tiny roads we took to get to the remote locations couldn't have been driven without an SUV.

Before getting on the road, we stopped to get some snacks and cash for our trip. In the parking lot, we paused to take a picture of me driving the car, although it was only a picture. I never got to actually drive. After that, we were on our way: our first destination was located just inside Wales along the boarder to England, though we had several stops to make first. Kristin found a good place for me in the center console, which is where I resided most of the time we were in the car. I didn't see a whole lot of the English countryside on that leg of the trip, but they did pull me out when we drove by Stonehenge. We hadn't planed to stop because you can't get very close even if you take a guided tour. We didn't need to worry though, there was a huge amount of traffic passing by Stonehenge, so our car was able to stop and we were able get a good look out the window. In fact, it was just about as close as if we had walked around, or so I heard.

We stopped for lunch in Bath, but didn't really have any time to explore. We walked around the Roman bath house and found owl statues scattered all over the city. We then headed back to the car for our next stop. Looking at the clock, we had to cut out one of our side trips in order to make sure we'd make it to the Hereford Cathedral before it closed. We did make one quick stop at Tintern Abbey, which was right along the way. There's a famous poem written by William Wordsworth called “Lines Composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey,” which Kristin read on the way there. Seeing Tintern Abbey nestled in the valley shadowed by gorgeously green mountains, you could see how Wordsworth had been inspired. When we arrived at the Abbey, it was raining pretty hard. Kristin and Greg hadn't brought any umbrellas, so they kept the stop brief. They held me up in front of the Abbey and took a picture, and then we were back on the road.

Our next stop was Hereford Cathedral: home of two interesting oddities. First, Hereford houses the largest chained library: old books dating back to the 1100s which have been chained along the covers to prevent theft. Also at Hereford is the mappa mundi, a medieval map of the world measuring approximately 4' x 5'. The map dates back to 1300 AD, making it the largest medieval map known to exist. These things sounded really amazing, but I didn't get to see them. Kristin and Greg had discussed what was and wasn’t respectful regarding photos with me, and church photos were on the no-go list, so I stayed in Kristin's camera bag.

We left the cathedral right as it closed and made a quick stop for gas and umbrellas. We then crossed the English boarder via a long bridge which was covered in fog and made our way into Wales. Despite the winding road, it wasn't too long before we found our destination: Baskerville Hall Hotel. The Baskerville is a converted mansion which hasn't changed much over the past hundred years or so - at least according to the photos from 1903 hanging in the lobby. But that's part of the charm; the hotel is eerily similar to the mansion it once was when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle visited and found inspiration for his story Hound of the Baskervilles. As soon as we arrived, Kristin, Greg, and I walked around the property and took photos with Doyle's book while there was still light. My favorite photo was of me sitting in the middle of the red-carpeted grand staircase, holding Hound of the Baskervilles and the old-fashioned room key - no key cards here. After our photo session, we enjoyed dinner, then turned in for the night, looking forward to the next day.

Sunday morning came quickly, and we just made it down for breakfast before they closed up the kitchen. We packed our things, knowing we wouldn't be back before check-out. Piling our belongings into the trunk of the car, we said goodbye and drove into Hay-on-Wye. Hay is a tiny city which was once declared an independent kingdom as a publicity stunt. More importantly, Hay has been called a used-book heaven, which is why we'd traveled all this way. We perused bookstores, spending most of our time at the Hay Cinema Bookshop, a converted movie theater. It's so large it needs a map so you can find your way around the stacks. Kristin and Greg were so excited at their finds (a few 19th century books, one from 1719, and one from 1630) that they didn't even notice I'd fallen out of Kristin's pocket by the historic postcards! It didn't take too long for them to come rushing back looking for me. They looked everywhere, and even asked the owner if he'd seen me. The owner was extremely concerned (quite rightly, I think) and was thrilled when Kristin and Greg went back to let him know they had found me. I was touched by the owner's response; when he saw me, he let out the breath he'd been holding in and smiled broadly. Nice guy.

After my little adventure in the bookstore, we stopped for some locally-made ice cream. I got a photo with the ice cream, but didn't get to try it, unfortunately. After that, we found the car and bid goodbye to Hay. Our final destination for the day was Grasmere up in the Lake District: Wordsworth's home. On the way, we made a brief stop at Arthur's Stone, a Druid burial site. It was used as the inspiration for the stone Aslan was sacrificed on in Chronicles of Narnia, and I got to sit on it! There was a short fence surrounding it, but openings to walk through. I was shocked I could sit in something thousands of years old!

The rest of the afternoon was uneventful. We left Wales and drove north to Grasmere, only stopping for dinner. Kristin was thrilled to be able to get some gluten-free fish and chips. I don't remember what Greg had; he rarely talks about his food. After dinner, we finished our drive, arriving just before check in closed, and made it up to our room for the night.

Monday morning dawned cool and foggy. Kristin and I looked out over the old homes and the emerald mountains which were dotted with sheep. After breakfast, we wandered through the town for a bit, visiting a daffodil garden dedicated to Wordsworth, as well as his grave. We then meandered down to Grasmere Lake, making sure to take several photos with me in the foreground and the lake behind me. The walk was calm and peaceful, despite passing several other walkers. We walked about a quarter of the lake before our schedule demanded we head back. After a brief stop at the Gingerbread store, we were on the road once more.

Our first stop for the day was Castlerigg: a beautiful Druid stone circle located in the middle of a pasture, surrounded by sheep. We ventured off the main road down a narrow dirt lane. The road narrowed more and more until the side mirrors were scraping the bushes boarding the road. We parked the car and opened the gate, noting the message to please close it behind us so the sheep wouldn't escape. Once again, I was shocked that we could walk right up to the stones. The view was breath-taking. Castlerigg stands on the top of a mountain surrounded by farmland. The stone walls separated pastures and fields in a patchwork of green squares. After admiring the view, we took a few pictures, then we were on our way once more.

We made a brief stop at Birdoswald Roman Fort, though we didn't go in. We were mostly interested in Hadrian's wall: an ancient wall built by the Roman emperor Hadrian which marked the northernmost boarder of the Roman Empire. The wall dates back to 122 AD, when it was first started, but much of the wall still stands. In fact, I was lucky enough to sit down on the wall while Kristin waited until the handful of other tourists were out of the way in order to get a good photo. A kind passer-by offered to take a photo of Kristin and Greg on the wall, but honestly, I think my photo turned out better.

After Birdoswald, we made a brief stop for lunch, then followed our GPS to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Kristin had read about the Ruthwell Cross, a 1300 year old cross with the earliest example of written English carved into the sides, and was excited to visit. As they drove, Greg read the poem written in the ruins: “The Dream of the Rood.” Traveling once again down tiny, one-lane roads with two-way traffic, we finally found the church housing the cross. We parked in the empty parking lot, and Kristin shoved me in her pocket. The three of us walked through the graveyard to the church door, admiring the beauty of the blue sky with fluffy white clouds drifting above the green pastures. The only sound was the crunching of the gravel beneath our feet.

Once at the front door, Greg tried the handle, but it was locked. He bent down to read the sign on the door, which let us know that if the church was locked, we were welcome to go pick up the church key from the caretaker's house next door and let ourselves in. Simultaneously, Kristin and Greg looked at each other and said, "No way."

We walked back out of the graveyard and found the caretaker's home. Outside the house, on the driveway, was a tiny box with a small sign reading “church key.” We picked up the key, walked back to the church, and let ourselves in.

We were struck immediately by the stone cross rising out of the floor in the middle of the sanctuary. Walking past the pews and the pulpit, we found ourselves just a few feet away from the cross, which was surrounded by a short fence. The cross was taller than it looked; the bottom of the cross was several feet below the floor, exposed by a trench dug around it. Kristin pulled out her camera immediately, afraid that someone would find us and kick us out before we could take any pictures. After taking countless photos (none with me, I'm afraid), Greg noticed wooden paddles on a side table with descriptions of the carvings. He picked up the English paddle and read the explanations, pointing out each scene as he read. Finally, we donated a few pounds and picked up some postcards, locked up the church, and returned the key. As we got back in the car, Kristin began laughing, repeating, "I can't believe that just happened!" Shaking our heads in disbelief, we retraced our steps to find our way back to the main road.

There were a few more hours of driving before we would be finished for the day. Our final destination was Edinburgh, which was hosting the world-famous Fringe Festival. Kristin and Greg were excited to be visiting during the Festival and had bought tickets to a couple shows. Unfortunately, we were running behind schedule, so we arrived in Edinburgh just before the first of those shows. Driving in Edinburgh was not much different that what I imagine driving in New York City would be like, and Kristin commented multiple times how grateful she was that Greg was driving instead of her. We reached the location of the show, and by some miracle, there was an open parking spot. The three of us rushed in, and we're able to grab some of the last seats. Kristin kept me in her pocket for the show, which I later figured out was going to be the norm for ny theater experience. Too bad, Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody sounded pretty amazing.

After the finale, we headed back to the car, only to realize that we'd parked in a permit only space. Luckily, we escaped without a ticket. We navigated our way to the guesthouse we'd booked, found parking, and lugged our bags in. Thankfully, we were on the first floor; carrying the luggage to the second floor had been difficult when we had stayed at the Baskerville.

We rested for a while before heading back out for dinner and another show. Following Google maps to a gluten-free restaurant, we spiraled our way down a staircase, only to be met with another staircase carrying us back up. We later learned that Edinburgh was built on steep hills,and quickly realized we needed to plan our activities on one hill or the other because going up and down was exhausting.

The restaurant ended up being full, so we searched for a while looking for another place where Kristin could actually eat. We ended up at an Italian place, which, though slow, was right next to the theater with our next show. After dinner, we enjoyed Trail to Oregon - well, Kristin and Greg did. I listened to the muffled dialogue though a thick coat pocket. I did manage to hear the character names that the audience chose for the cast: Meme Daddy (Father), Greg (Mother), Capri Sun (Older Daughter), You Must Construct Additional Pylons (Younger Son), and I am Groot (Grandpa). Greg was particularly proud of himself for suggesting Grandpa's name. Exhausted after the show, partially from laughing so hard, we headed back to our room and collapsed for the night.

The next morning we enjoyed a full English breakfast cooked by the guesthouse owners: Tommy and his wife. They were even thoughtful enough to pick up gluten-free bread for Kristin. With full stomachs, we made our way back into the main city. Our first stop was queuing up to pick up our tickets for the Military Tattoo. Once the tickets had been secured, we walked up one side of the hill to Mary King's Close. We were hoping to book a time slot for that afternoon, but they had an immediate opening. With about an hour before our city tour, we decided to chance the 45 minute tour, planning to run if necessary to our next appointment, which was on the other hill. Sadly, no photos were allowed inside, so, once again, I didn't get to see anything, which was a shame since it ended up being one of Greg's favorite stops on the entire trip.

On the flip side, the tour ended on time, so we didn't need to run, which was good, because once we had finished at Mary King's Close it had begun to pour. Carefully finding footing down steep cobblestone streets, we made our way to the National Museum, the meeting location for our city tour. The tour was quite quick, but gave us a wonderful overview of the city. My favorite story was about a church: The city of Edinburgh wanted to move people out of the valley below the city in order to construct a railroad track, but the people were concerned about leaving their church. The city agreed to completely disassemble the church and rebuild it in Edinburgh, even going as far as to number the individual stones to make reconstruction easier. Unsurprisingly, the city didn't follow through with their promise. Years later, the church was rebuilt, but it was nothing like the original; the numbers on the stones were completely ignored, and stones were stacked wherever was easiest. We could still see some of the numbers, some upside down. We also learned the street named Cowsgate was the low point between the hills, so anything on the opposite side meant stairs down, then up. Cowsgate was, perhaps obviously, where the livestock entered and exited the city.

Towards the end of our tour, we caught the scent of Indian food. Our stomachs rumbled. Well, at least, Greg and Kristin's did – my stomach is all fluff. Lured by the enticing smells, we made our way back to the restaurant after our guide wrapped up the tour. There was a small wait for a table, but the food was delicious - or so I heard.

After lunch, Kristin decided she wanted to visit the Surgeon's Museum, which wasn't far away. We expected it wouldn't take long; Kristin really just wanted to see Burke's death mask and the journal made from his skin. She'd learned about Burke and his accomplice Hare while in college and was excited to see anything connected to them, no matter how morbid it was. We paused outside the museum to snap a photo of me cradled between the thumb and forefinger of a giant bronze hand holding a scalpel. Photo finished, we made our way inside.

Yet again banished to a pocket, I listened to my people discussing the exhibits, and, for once, I was glad to be blinded. I have to admit, I'm not a fan of preserved body parts, even if they did show bullet entry and exit wounds or the effects of diseases like cancer, syphilis or gangrene. The only thing I was sad to miss was the “Things we found stuck up people's noses” display. But even that wouldn't have balanced out seeing the spines twisted by scoliosis or the wall of persevered genitals and eyeballs. Much to my relief, we finally left the Surgeon's Museum, planning to freshen up before the Tattoo that night.

Back at the guesthouse, we freshened up and called an Uber. Once he arrived, we went outside to meet our driver on the corner. Although it didn't save us any time at all, Kristin and Greg were relieved to avoid walking all the way up the hill in their nice clothes. Our driver dropped us off as close as he could as many of the streets were blocked to traffic. We walked the rest of the way to the entrance, showing security the special bracelets and tickets that we had picked up earlier that day. We were directed to a waiting area with the other people who had purchased the same special Tattoo dinner package that we had. After a short time, a guide stood on a platform and welcomed us to the castle and to dinner. We were escorted in small groups up to our dining area in a remote part of the castle. Walking carefully over the uneven cobblestones, we passed by the cannons, getting a wonderful view of the city. A piper greeted us at the door, and we were able to check our jackets and bags before heading into a large room with two long tables, each holding around 50 people.

A waitress showed us to our assigned seats, and Kristin picked me up, carrying me over to the window to snap a few photos of the city. We moved out of the way to let others see the view and take their own pictures. Kristin placed me on the table next to her name card, then returned me to the camera bag, where I spent the rest of dinner. At the commencement of the dinner, a piper played for the presentation of the haggis, which I didn't know was a thing. After the presentation, there was a lot of discussion about the haggis, which was served as the first course. For once, I was happy I'm unable to eat. Kristin, being gluten-free, was able to escape the dish, ending up with fresh fruit instead. After some delightful conversation with our Canadian and Japanese table-mates, we enjoyed chicken potatoes and a sweet dessert. To wrap up the dinner, we were treated to a preview of the show by a single piper.

Dinner ended, and we gathered our things from the coat room, then left our private dining area to head down to the venue. As we walked out into the fading light, we were shocked to see pipers, drummers, and other performers all around us. It turned out we were in the staging area. We were asked not to stop and take photos as they were preparing for the show, but it was amazing to see everything that was happening backstage. We were even able to walk alongside some of the performers as they headed towards the arena. Heading downhill, we finally reached the castle entrance, where we were escorted through the main gates into the arena.

Walking through castle gates into an arena is like nothing I've ever experienced. The temporary bleachers rose high on other side of us, and the center performance area stretched wide in front of us. There were only a few people in the center, mostly those who worked for the Tattoo. I thought we would've been rushed along, but we were able to stop and take photos from the arena as we headed towards our seats. It truly felt like we were celebrities, even though all we had done was pay for an upgraded dinner package.

As we headed up to our seats, Kristin took a picture of me in front of the hordes of people. It didn't take as long to discover that those of us who had shared dinner together were seated in the same area, so we were comfortable with each other already. The people sitting next to us were other Americans, which we discovered when the announcer asked where everyone in the audience was from. I think the people next to us cheered louder than anybody else. We spent the next two hours enjoying music from all over the world and the wonderful performances that accompanied it. There was fireworks, dancing, precision movement, and more bagpipes than I'd ever imagined in one place. The Tattoo itself was a wonderful experience, and the upgraded package made it all the more memorable. Our favorite sets, besides the Scottish pipers, were the dancers from Mexico, the precision drill team from the US, and the Swiss Top Secret Drum Corps.

Exhilarated from an amazing show, we decided to walk back to our guesthouse even though it was late at night. We had so much fun, we needed time to cool down before bed. By the time we reached our room, we were ready to sleep.

Tuesday was our last day in Edinburgh, so we wanted to make the best of it. After breakfast, we passed through a cemetery to visit David Hume and to see the only monument to the American Civil War located outside the US, as well as the first statue of a US President outside the US. Kristin snapped a great picture of a soldier statue holding me up towards the Lincoln statue, though she was worried it might be a little bit disrespectful. It ended up being the only photo we got of me in a graveyard/cemetery.

We then walked over to the Camera Obscura museum for about an hour before we had to meet for our second city tour. The museum was fabulous! It was full of optical illusions and interesting things to try, like a mirror maze. The hour flew by, and we had to rush to the Writers' Museum to make it to our tour on time.

We'd been spoiled by our first tour which had less than ten people; this tour had forty! As a result, we moved much slower than we would have liked. It took us quite a while to get to each stop, but it was well worth the delay. We were treated to more than just locations and descriptions of said locations. Our guide was familiar with the material (he even wrote a book about it!), and took us to off-beat places, giving us anecdotes of the lives of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Lewis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, as well as a bit about J.K. Rowling and other authors who'd interacted with Edinburgh in some way or another. We even heard about the real people who inspired the creations of Long John Silver and Dr. Watson. Our guide also told us stories about Joseph Bell, the doctor who Doyle credits as the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. It was a fascinating tour, and we made sure to pick up a signed copy of our tour guide's book before we left.

We made a short stop for lunch, finding a place where Kristin could try gluten-free haggis. It was not her thing, to put it mildly. She gagged most of it down, but felt queasy for the next hour or so. Turns out, she's not fond of shepherd's pie, which is basically what the dish was. After lunch, we visited the Scottish National Museum for about an hour, just hitting the few “must-sees,” like the Millennium clock and Dolly, who I got a picture with! We easily could've spent a full day there, but by that point, we were tired and ready to move on.

We headed back towards the Camera Obscura museum, stopping at Greyfriar's graveyard, which contains two examples of mortsafes. Mortsafes are metal contraptions covering graves to prevent the dead from being taken and sold for illegal dissections. The two mortsafes at Greyfriar's date from around 1830, which was when Burke and Hare (mentioned above at the Surgeon Museum) moved from body-snatching to killing.

After that cheerful stop, we made our way to the Scottish Whiskey Experience, one of the silliest things we experienced. We rode a barrel ride through a dark tunnel and learned about the whiskey-making process. It was similar to Disneyland's Haunted Mansion: dark, twisty, and for some reason, led by a ghost. Once we exited our barrel, we had a further explanation of regional Scottish whiskey, including a scratch-and-sniff card with the different flavor notes so that we could figure out which we might like. Unfortunately, I don't really have a nose, so I couldn't smell anything. And since my mouth is always closed, I didn't get to try any either. That's okay though – whiskey isn't really my thing.

Right next door was the Camera Obscura Museum, so after our Whiskey Experience, we went back to explore the two floors of the museum that we had missed. We had to rush out to make our 7:15 performance of MarvelUS, another Fringe show. It was … okay. After the show, we headed back to our room for a while to pack, then grabbed dinner before making it to our final Fringe show: TapeFace. This was probably the show I missed out on the most; with all the other shows where I was stuck in the backpack or jacket pocket, soI could at least hear what was going on, but not so with TapeFace. After all, he is a mime. The audience seemed to enjoy it though! Still laughing and discussing the show, we headed back to the guesthouse to turn in for the night. Sadly, the direct route to our hotel was blocked - there was some kind of incident at the bridge we needed to cross (though we never figured out exactly what the incident was), so we had to walk way out of our way. By the time we got back around midnight, we were completely exhausted.

The next morning we left early, disappointed to miss Tommy's breakfast. However, we had a lot of driving to do, so we needed to get a move-on. We hauled our suitcases to the car and started the longest leg of the road trip, saying goodbye to Edinburgh. All told, we had walked 27 miles in the three days we were there, and we were ready for a long car drive. We input our destination (our first pit stop) into the GPS, which gave us a completely different route then we'd planned, so we double checked on Google Maps. Once we confirmed the route had changed, we altered to the new route, and Kristin searched her favorite travel website, Atlas Obscura, to see if there were any interesting things along the new route. Sure enough, we found Hogwarts! - Well, the castle where Hogwarts was filmed. We stopped just long enough to snap a picture (featuring me, of course!), and then got back on the road.

Our first real stop was Mother Shipton's Cave, which Kristin had been looking forward to seeing. Mother Shipton's is the oldest charging tourist location in England. It's been charging visitors since 1630, and is said to be the birthplace of Ursula Southeil (1488 - 1561), a well known prophetess. Our GPS lead us right to the gates, and Kristin began to pull up to the ticket booth. The attendant rushed out, waving his hands. Our SVU was too big to fit through the normal entrance, so Kristin had to back up and use the delivery entrance. Once paid up and inside the gates, we drove down a dirt road along a beautiful river, then found a parking spot. We had been expecting a quick stop, but it turned out to be more interesting and to take much longer than we'd anticipated. We wandered along the path, admiring the beauty of the trees and nature. We took note of two costumed men teaching archery to some kids, said hello to a richly costumed man who told us how much he loves gold, and greeted a princess. It took us an embarrassingly long time to figure out that the park had Robin Hood themed characters for the kids as a special summer event.

As we walked along the path, we passed some felled trees, which had been carved into faces. Greg took a moment to shove me in mouths and above eyeballs while Kristin snapped some photos. I didn't find it funny in the least. We finally made it to the main attraction: the petrifying well! Due to a large concentration of minerals, items hung along the edge of the well become stone-like in just a few months. It was incredible, not just for the marvel of the sulfate and carbonate, but also because we knew we were standing in the footsteps of thousands of others who had stared at the exact same thing, including royalty and celebrities. We walked into the cave Mother Shipton was allegedly born in, then made a wish in the wishing well, making sure to follow the very specific instructions. Our final stop was the gift shop and museum, where we got to see John Wayne's Hat, Agatha Christie's handbag, and a shoe left by Queen Mary in 1923 – all petrified. After a few photos (of course!), we made our way back to the car, briefly stopping to hammer in some US coins into more felled trees, as all visitors to the park do. Shortly after, we were back on the road once more!

Since our stop had taken more time than expected, our time tour next stop in Nottingham was cut short. However, we were able to see a few key things. Kristin had visited Nottingham almost 14 years ago, so she dragged Greg and I to the National Justice Museum. Regrettably, we didn't have enough time to attend the interactive parts of the museum: the trial and the hanging. We had just enough time to walk through the displays, checking out the underground cells and the gallows. Kristin even put me on the scaffold and told me I'd better behave myself – not that I'd been doing anything wrong! The solitary confinement cell was the worst. It was so dark Kristin wouldn't even crawl in for fear of Greg scaring her. Before leaving, we picked up some Robin Hood hats and swords for the kids; we were in Nottingham after all!

We hopped back in the car, but made one more stop before leaving Nottingham. There is a statue of Robin Hood next to the Nottingham castle, and Kristin really wanted a picture of me with Robin Hood. We stopped and took that important picture, and also got one of me reading the Bible over Friar Tuck's shoulder. We headed back for the car, which we'd parked across from Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, the oldest pub in England, which served the Crusaders starting in 1189. We walked around inside the pub just to get a feel for the place, snapped another photo, and got back on the road.

Our final destination for the day was Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace. Kristin and Greg had tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company's (RSC) production of Merry Wives of Windsor at 7pm, so we were in a bit of a time crunch. We pulled into Stratford just before six, but it took us a bit to get to the hotel. The directions we had were clear, but since the street was one-way, we missed the turn the first time and had to loop back. After pulling in to park, we unloaded the car and checked in. Kristin and Greg changed for the theater at lightening speed, then we rushed down for dinner in the hotel restaurant. Thankfully, the staff was accommodating, and Kristin and Greg were able to eat a full meal before the show. We walked quickly to the theater, making it just in time. Again, I was relegated to a pocket, so I wasn't able to watch the show, but it sounded hysterical. The highlight for me was when the characters treated the audience like a pool and two of them jumped into the 'pool' to 'swim.' Since we were in the front row, Falstaff's giant belly knocked Kristin's jacket – and me – and I fell to the floor. After the show, we headed back to the hotel, stopping for a quick snack along the way. After that, it was time for bed.

Friday morning we slept in a little bit, which was much needed. We had most of our day open: we were scheduled to drop off our rental car at noon, but it was fine if we were late. The only thing we had to do besides that was get to a performance of King Lear in London at 6. Once up and about, we took a walk around Stratford, ticking off all the must-see boxes. We started with Shakespeare's birthplace, which was right around the corner from our hotel. We passed by his school and his daughter's house, then visited Holy Trinity Church, where he's buried. From there, we began to circle back around, wandering through a beautiful park next to the Avon river. Close to the RSC theater, we found a small plaque commemorating Vivian Leigh, who we found out was an RSC actor. We stopped by the RSC theater once more to get a photo in the daylight and to pick up some souvenirs. Kristin found some magnets for the fridge, and worked hard to convince Greg to get the “Kill all the lawyers” magnet for his co-workers (who are lawyers), but Greg didn't go for it. He did, however, pick up a Deadpool meets Shakespeare graphic novel, which I'm hoping to read once he finishes.

After the RSC store, we walked through the park in front of the theater, and thus began my favorite part of the trip. We found a statue of Shakespeare, and Greg sat me in his hand for a photo, then moved me to the top of the scroll for another picture. The park was bustling that morning, so many people passed us as I was being positioned. I was concerned that people might be upset we were being disrespectful or something, but instead, every person who noticed me laughed. We moved over to the giant memorial, which has a set of five statues: Hamlet, Prince Hal, Lady Macbeth, Falstaff, and Shakespeare seated above them in the center. I got to pose with each statue (except Shakespeare, who was too high). We had to wait several moments for other photographers to to finish their photos before we could take ours. There was one photographer who was quite serious, taking photos from several angles. He paused to let us have a chance to take our photo, but looked slightly irritated at being interrupted. We apologized and said we'd just be a moment. Greg put me on Prince Hal, and the photographer burst out laughing. He might have even sneaked a picture of me as well.

Finished with our photo shoot, we walked back towards the car, stopping to pick up some wooden flowers for the dining room at home. We also spent a bit of time in a candy store, where Kristin and Greg tried these crazy candies called flying saucers, which were basically spaceship-shaped rice paper filled with flavored sugar. Greg bought a bag to take to work as well as a bit of candy for the flight home.

We jumped in the car and navigated our way to J.R.R. Tolkien's grave, just outside of Oxford. It was a quick stop, although I didn't get to get out, which was a shame. Apparently the graveyard had won an award several times for being the Most Beautiful Graveyard. (I didn't know 'Most Beautiful Graveyard' was an award anyone could win, but good for them.) Kristin and Greg spent longer there than they'd planned, which seemed to be a trend with them. They looked at all the graves, which were intricately decorated. It wasn't just the newer graves that were decorated; some of the graves that had been filled more than a hundred years ago looked just as nice as the ones from the prior month. After saying thank you to Tolkien and leaving a coin on his headstone, as is common, we jumped back in our car and drove into Oxford. We only had one important stop in Oxford: The Eagle and Child, which was the hangout for the Inklings, a writing group that included Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. After finding parking, we entered the pub, hoping for a drink and some lunch. Unfortunately, they only served dinner, so Kristin and Greg enjoyed a half-pint of cider and lager, respectively, before we hit the road once more.

By this point, we were behind schedule (of course!), so we stopped by a Sainsbury to pick up a quick lunch, which Kristin and Greg ate in the car. Our final stop before dropping off the car was C.S. Lewis's grave. My people paid their respects, again saying thank you, then walked back down the beautiful tree-covered path from the church graveyard. They didn't bring me (standard for a grave site), but it sounded lovely. With a deep breath and GPS set to go, we began the final leg of the trip.

We drove to Heathrow airport, turned the car back in, took a shuttle to the airport, and found the tube into downtown London. It took about an hour to arrive at the station closest to our hotel: Blackfriars. Luckily, the hotel was basically across the street from the station, which made hauling the luggage much easier. Kristin and Greg checked into the hotel, looked at the time, and realized they needed to rush to get to the performance they had that evening. They changed and grabbed some snacks for intermission, not having enough time for a full meal.

The three of us hopped on the tube and took it a few stops over to Covent Garden, where the theater was located. We were a bit later than we'd hoped to be, but it wasn't a problem. In order to get decent seats at the last minute, Greg had needed to buy an upgraded ticket package, which included appetizers and drinks before the show. We still had about half an hour to relax with drinks and snacks before the show started. This time in the fourth row, we had a wonderful view of the production of King Lear, starring Sir Ian McKellen as Lear. I was disappointed to be stuck in Kristin’s jacket pocket once more, but once the scene with Gloucester's eyes being plucked out began, I knew I was better off. I don't do well with gore, and that scene is one of the worst in Shakespeare's canon.

The play was wonderful by all accounts. Once it had concluded, the three of us waited outside at the stage door to see if we could get a glimpse of Sir Ian. Before he exited, we were able to see several of the other actors and praise them for their performances. Once Sir Ian appeared, everyone cheered. Thankfully, no one pushed, even though there were easily more than one hundred people pouring off the sidewalk into the street. Sir Ian was gracious and spent maybe ten minutes signing autographs. Though we didn't get an autograph, we were able to get close to him and say thank you, which made Greg's night. After Sir Ian departed, we did as well. We decided to walk back in the cool night air. By the time we got back to the hotel half an hour later, we were worn-out and ready for bed.

The next morning we started later than planned. After a furious week of driving and walking, Kristin and Greg were beginning to run out of steam. After a leisurely breakfast, we headed to the British museum. We didn't have much time there, so we prioritized and hit the things we wanted to see the most. We went through the Egyptian section as well as the Elgin marbles and other Greek acquisitions. We walked through the rest of the museum, stopping to read the description of things that looked interesting. One of the most fascinating rooms we found included ancient evidence for stories found in the Bible. Kristin especially enjoyed looking at the writing carved into stone. She loved the Bible stories, but the shopping list and the acrostic poem were entertaining as well. Of course, since it was a museum, I wasn't allowed to touch anything, which meant I couldn't sit on or pose with anything. Instead, Greg held me up in front of some of the more picturesque displays, and Kristin snapped pictures. After an hour or so, we were ready to leave. There were so many people in the museum, it was elbow to elbow. I noticed Kristin wrinkling her nose several times, so it must not have smelled great either.

We left the museum and headed to a purported gluten-free fish and chips place. It was billed as the top fish and chips place in London (but who knows how accurate that was!). Once we arrived, we found out that there was a gluten-free option, but it was grilled fish with no chips, only salad. Kristin was extremely disappointed, but glad she had been able to try gluten free fish and chips on the way to Grasmere.

After lunch, the three of us walked over to Shakespeare's Globe, a theater designed to look like the original Globe, where Shakespeare's plays were originally performed. Kristin and Greg had debated about getting seats, and since Greg wasn't sure, Kristin made the executive decision to be standing on the ground. Kristin had been a groundling twice before, so she knew what was in store, but Greg had no idea. When we arrived, Kristin made Greg sit on the ground with her so they could rest their legs before the show started. Less than half an hour into the show, Greg begin to feel uncomfortable. I could see the pain and frustration on his face. It likely didn't help that the show was A Winter's Tale, known as one of Shakespeare's problem plays. The first half is psychological drama, and the second half is an upbeat comedy, which makes it difficult to follow. Standing through all the psychological speeches was tedious since the monologues dragged on, and Greg was about ready to go at intermission, but decided to stick with it. After the show, Kristin asked Greg how he enjoyed being a grounding, and he said, "How does that saying go? That's a fun thing I will never do again."

We left the theater, and made sure to stop outside to take some pictures. As we walked along the Thames, we paused to take a picture of me in front of Saint Paul's Cathedral, which was across the water. The three of us crossed the Millennium Bridge, and headed towards Saint Paul's, though we weren't planning on going inside. Once across the river, Greg placed me on top of one of the bollards with red and white paint on the top (we later learned that this meant we were inside London proper, jurisdiction of the London Police). Sitting on top of the bollard, Kristin took a picture of me with Saint Paul's directly behind me. As we walked away, Greg laughed, telling Kristin about how he had seen a kid watching me having my photograph taken. The kid looked incredulous and maybe just a little bit jealous.

We had scheduled a Jack the Ripper tour at 6:30, so as we walked over to the meeting location, we made a stop at Leadenhall Market, which was one of the filming locations for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Unfortunately, all the stores were closed, so it was a very quick stop. However, that did leave us enough time to do a bit of shopping, as well as take some photos of the Tower of London, which is where we were due to meet our tour guide.

Just before 6: 30, we headed towards the Tower Hill tube station, outside of which our guide was waiting. When we arrived, we noticed several tour guides, and had a hard time distinguishing which was ours. However, we were quite certain the guide in the Grim Reaper outfit wasn't who we were looking for. We found our guide below the stairs where we had been looking, and were delighted to find out that our tour consisted of the guide, another couple, and us. The other tours had between twenty and forty people, which we discovered as we kept bumping into them at the different crime scene locations. However, with such a small group, it was easy to move around to quieter areas, to ask questions, and to get to know our guide, Dan, better.

Dan was a fantastic guide. Kristin specifically picked this tour because it was through a company that only hired Beefeaters. Beefeaters are the guards tasked with protecting the crown jewels, as well as the Tower of London and the people inside. We learned that in order to be a Beefeater, you needed to have 22 years of military service under your belt, as well as pass a rigorous application and interview process. Kristin asked if storytelling was part of the interview, since the Beefeaters are known as wonderful storytellers. Dan replied that it was a requirement for the interview, but not a requirement for the position. He also told us that there are currently only 79 Beefeaters, and throughout history, more people have been in space than have been Beefeaters. Not only that, Beefeaters take part in the Ceremony of the Keys, the oldest military ceremony in the world, which has been uninterrupted for around 700 years.

But I digress. The tour was fascinating. Dan started by showing us the wall that was built around the square mile of London proper, which is when he pointed out the colored bollards. Part of the reason Jack the Ripper wasn't caught was because the murders took place in the jurisdictions of both the London police and the metropolitan police, which led to two sets of investigators. Dan then took us around Whitechapel starting with the Prostitutes Church, which was where many ladies of the night spent their time (obviously). He pointed out where the murders occurred, and took us to the specific locations when possible. He was wonderful at making sure we understood the historical context of the murder spree, filling us in on living conditions and typical wages. Not only that, Dan carried a binder filled with actual crime scene photographs as well as sketches, so we were able to see the possible suspects as well as some of the gruesome crime scenes. At one point, Dan was telling the story about an argument that was overheard before one of the murders was committed. The witness said he had heard what sounded like a body being slammed against a metal fence. As Dan told us, he used his boot heel to kick the metal door behind him, and Kristin jumped about a foot in the air. At the end of the tour, Dan told us that the murders were never solved, but he presented his theory on what it happened. My people thanked Dan for his knowledge and storytelling ability, then asked for a recommendation for dinner. Per his suggestion, the three of us ended up at a place called Coppers, which had delicious food, or so I heard. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel, ready for bed.

Our final morning, we woke up early in order to make the best of our last few hours. We were tired and our legs were sore from all the walking we'd been doing, but luckily most of the morning was spent sitting on the tube, traveling from place to place.

After packing the rest of our luggage and getting breakfast, we hopped on the tube. A short time later, we jumped off to go snap a quick picture of Big Ben for the kids since Big Ben shows up in a bunch of their cartoons. Unfortunately, Big Ben was under construction, so all we could see was the scaffolding around it. It wasn't a big deal though; both Kristin and Greg had seen it before. Next we rode to Earl's Court, where we heard the Tardis had been spotted. Sure enough, once we excited the station, we found the Tardis in all its glory. We took a few pictures and looked around for the Doctor, but he was nowhere to be seen. With a sigh, we were back on the tube, headed for King's Cross station to visit Platform 9 3/4. There was a tremendous line to get a professional photo, so we contented ourselves with a selfie from the side. We also picked up some souvenirs for our Potterhead friends, as well as a limited edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, which Kristin and Greg were planning on giving to their daughter. We even took a special picture of me holding her book in front of Platform 9 3/4.

Happy with checking off the last few boxes on our list, we took the tube back to the hotel, picked up our suitcases, and boarded the Gatwick Express for the airport. Once we arrived at the airport, we checked our bags in, then headed towards our gate. We grabbed some lunch, boarded the plane, and headed home, grateful to finally stop moving.

It was a whirlwind of a trip. All told, we traveled just over 1,000 miles by car, walked 67 miles on foot, and rode who-knows-how-many miles by tube. An added bonus was being able to share our adventures in real time via social media. Our friends and family have told us how much they enjoyed traveling with us and how fun it was for them to look for me. But more than anything, I'm delighted the kids enjoyed playing “Spot The Prince” in every photograph we took. I cannot wait for our next trip. Hopefully the kids get to go - as long as they don't leave me behind!

Though she's wanted to be an author her entire life, Kristin is just beginning to put her nose to the grindstone. She's completed two novels, the first of which, Zombie Love, is in the editing phase. She's also composed various short stories and poems, some of which can be found on her blog at KristinCragg.com. When not writing, she's taking care of her husband, two kids, and two cats. She might also be found working on her hand-stamping etsy business orders while watching 
documentaries on Netflix. In any case, it's extremely likely she's got a cup of coffee or tea, as well as a book or her Bible close within reach. If you'd like to see more photos from the Prince's adventure, check out Kristin's instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kristincragg/

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