We met at Dulles airport for an evening flight. We were all very excited and very awake, which, I think, set us all up to be exhausted for the rest of the trip. With our matching royal blue shirts, we were a bobbing sea of color as we went through the airport. Each chaperon took their family group of 6 students through check in and security.
Once we got to the terminal the motto seemed to be, “Let the shopping commence!” I saw children in every store that was still open, all purchasing coffee drinks, snacks and goodies for our flight. I’m not entirely sure why they bought all that, since while we were on the flight, the attendants did their best to fill us with food and drink. Some of us slept, but most watched the in-flight movies. We had to keep the cabin window shades down because we were chasing the sun and otherwise, we’d never have gotten any rest. London is 5 hours ahead of our normal ESDT, so our flight left at 10 pm, we flew for slightly more than 6 hours, but when we got to London, it was already 10 am!
We met our tour guides Debbie and Maeve, split into our two motor coach groups, and off we went. It was a little strange sitting in our seats and watching the traffic come towards us from “the wrong side”, but we quickly got used to it. I suppose it would have been different if we had been driving ourselves around.
Our first taste of the English countryside wasn’t that out of the ordinary. Since it was summer, we saw greenery, but being a large road, we also only saw what you’d normally see. Brush and shrubbery.
We stopped for our lunch at a service station (rest stop). I found it funny that as we were pulling into the station, there was a sign for Burger King. Some things are universal, apparently. The service station was very busy with travelers and there were multiple places to get food, coffee, or other items you might like while traveling.
The first thing I noticed when we stepped off the coach was how cool the air was. The temperature there is lucky to get up to 80 degrees and there seems to be a constant light breeze. Just enough to make you want a sweatshirt when you are out of the direct sunlight. It felt like a clear day in mid-October back home. It was delightful.
The kids were still running on adrenaline and were starting to figure out how to work the money differences. One of the girls left her wallet on a table and a German tourist was kind enough to find another person wearing one of our matching T-shirts and returned it to her. That was our first positive experience with items that were lost and found, and returned!!
Back on the motor coach and we were on our way to Stonehenge. Debbie, our tour guide, sent around a little “pot” of coins to help us get acquainted with the British Monetary system. We knew we’d love her when she described the ten pence as a “horrid little piece of shrapnel”. Just our kind of gal!
Now the countryside began to open up and we were treated to lush and rolling green hills, dotted with little houses and sheep. The hedgerows that marked the property lines were zig-zagging across the hills and reminded me at times of the Great Wall of China in their never-ending trek across the fields. The sky changed by the second, showing shafts of sunlight through dark clouds and then morphing into puffy white bits of fluff in a bright blue sky.
As we topped a hill, Stonehenge came into view. Even at this distance, it was breathtaking sitting in the middle of cleared fields in all its majesty. The green of the grass in contrast with a storm system racing to greet us was the perfect setting for the mystical standing stones.
As we pulled into the parking lot, the heavens opened and the deluge began. Little did we know that the Shadow Tour (parents and siblings who were there to see our concerts, but not touring with us) were standing on the hill at Stonehenge, getting their first taste of the variable English weather!
We waited for the storm to pass and piled out of our motor coaches to walk over to the stones, passing our drenched shadow tour members as we went! (grin)
With cameras clicking away, we began our journey around the circle of stones. We were allowed to use the self guided tour wands and many of the students were listening to information at each stopping point, however, others were enjoying taking pictures of themselves and their friends at the site. Just before it was time for us to re-board our coach, it was our turn to get baptized by an English cloudburst. Dripping, but happy, we were all back on our bus and on our way to the Sherborne School.
By this time, our bodies started to realize that we hadn’t really slept and within minutes of boarding the coach, many of us were fast asleep. Debbie entertained those of us who were still awake with facts about England, Stonehenge and Sherborne, but eventually, I think we all were down for the count for awhile. I woke up not too far from Sherborne to see homes with beautiful gardens as we wended our way through the twists and turns and hedgerows towards our destination. There was one home that was getting it’s roof re-thatched and that was a very interesting sight to see. I never realized that thatch could last upwards of 30 years.
Pulling in to Sherborne, I heard one of the students say, “How quaint!” with wonder in her voice. It was a sweet sound.
We stopped in front of Sherborne School and began to offload our luggage and find our way to our home for the next few days. Some of us were in Abbeylands and others in Abbey House. Both buildings were well kept, even though they were over 400 years old and were a warren of halls, stairs and doorways. I completely “get” the moving stairways in Harry Potter now!! With a few minor adjustments, we were all settled into our rooms and freshening up for our evening meal and meeting.
We reported to the cafeteria for our first meal at Sherborne and were greeted by lovely and helpful staff. After filling our plates, we found a place to sit and began to survey our surroundings. There were 4 other groups there with us, although we were quick to realize that we were the largest and very visible on any day, due to our matching attire. (Great way to keep track of everyone, though!!)
With full tummies, we met in the Big School Room for introductions, a few rules and regulations and some rousing and fun sing-alongs with both of the artistic directors for the festival, Emily Ellsworth and Michael Kibblewhite. Afterward, the school staff had arranged for the students to have a meet and greet in the form of a disco. Some of the kids went and enjoyed treats, music and making friends and some chose to explore the immediate area around the School which is the town of Sherborne!
Curfew was 11 pm and with everyone tucked in and exhausted, we drifted off to sleep, reviewing the day and preparing for tomorrow.