The Olympic Games 2012: Five great places to stay outside of London (Part II)

If you happen to get caught in all the Olympics hoopla, there are many places less than two hours from London by train that offer a great base. Here are five possibilities. Photo: Cam River wends its way through Cambridge

CHARLOTTEJuly 19, 2012 — While the eyes of the world are focused on London in coming weeks, travelers to Great Britain will be seeking relief from the congestion by getting far from the madding crowds. This is Part II of five suggestions for places to stay that are relatively convenient and accessible to London.

Rye – Once the home of author Henry James, Rye is a coastal village situated at the confluence of three rivers: the Brede, the Rother and the Tillingham. Rye’s historical links to 18th and 19th century smugglers create an ambience that has made it a popular destination for tourism.

Among the attractions are two ancient taverns, the Mermaid Inn and the Olde Bell Inn.  The notorious Hawkhurst Gang used a labyrinth of tunnels as escape routes beneath the inns during their heyday in the 18th century.

The Mermaid dates to 1156 and remains a favorite guest house today. Part of the fun is taking a picture of the sign on the entrance which states, “Rebuilt in 1420.”

After nearly 900 years of history, The Mermaid Inn has more than it share of ghosts with no less than six bedrooms that are said to be haunted.

Panorama of Rye from tower of St. Mary’s Church

Henry James discovered Rye while riding his bicycle. He became infatuated and moved there from London in 1897 where he continued his writing, producing more than ten books during his 18 year residency.

As Simon Fleet wrote in In Search of Henry James At Rye, “Only a short drive from the White Cliffs of Dover, Rye is reminiscent of a little hill town in Tuscany. It is a picturesque conglomeration of narrow cobbled streets overhung by tightly packed houses of every architectural style. Everywhere there is a smell of salt-spray and roses. James was irresistibly charmed by the old-worldness, the fishermen mending their nets in the streets, the quiet.”

Rye is accessible by trains from St. Pancras Station in London. There is a change at Ashford International but the good news is that the total travel time, including the change, is only about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Cambridge – If you take a football and plan to go punting in Cambridge, you are going to get wet. That’s because the Cam is the river that runs through town, and punting is rowing a boat.

Cambridge is best known for its university which was founded in 1209, with King’s College Chapel becoming one of its best known buildings. King Henry VI began construction in 1446. It was completed about 70 years later during the reign of Henry VIII.

Even without the university however, Cambridge has plenty to entice any traveler.

If you arrive by train, you can purchase a ticket at the railway station for buses that circle the city and environs throughout the day. Headsets are provided to give all the details of your excursion, and you can hop on and off at your leisure.

Among the popular sites for visitors is The Round Church. Constructed in 1130, it is one of only four medieval round churches still in use today in England.

Just down the road, in the tiny village of Bury St. Edmunds, you can visit the ruins of its famous abbey before walking up the street to enjoy a pint of ale in the smallest pub in Great Britain. Across for the abbey ruins, room #15 in the Angel Hotel is designated by a plaque honoring Charles Dickens who described his quarters there in The Pickwick Papers.

Trains to Cambridge operate frequently from London’s Kings Cross Station. It is a 45 minute ride on an express train or twice as long on a local.

Canterbury – If cathedrals are more to your liking, then Canterbury may just be the place. When St. Thomas Becket was assassinated in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170, the city became a site for Christian pilgrims throughout the world.

Of the numerous saints associated with Canterbury, St. Augustine is perhaps the most prominent other than Becket. Augustine was the first Archbishop of Canterbury and is considered one of the founders of the English Church.

After becoming the Archbishop in 597, St. Augustine founded the world famous cathedral which today remains one of the best known Christian buildings in England.  

Influenced by Thomas Becket’s murder, Geoffrey Chaucer used the event for a pilgrimage that was the backdrop for his Canterbury Tales written in the 14th century.  Another writer, William Shakespeare’s biggest rival, Christopher Marlowe, was born in Canterbury.

Another noteworthy event took place at 59 Palace Court where Robert Cushman signed a lease in 1620 for a ship to transport pilgrims to America. The name of the ship was the Mayflower.

Like Rye, trains to Canterbury depart regularly from St. Pancras in London to Ashford International. Change at Ashford for a short 18-minute ride to Canterbury.

So, whether you plan to attend the Olympics in London or just want to find alternative sites while the world is at play, these five destinations offer more than their share of interesting things to do on a visit to the United Kingdom.  (

Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC, and founder of The Magellan Travel Club which creates and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more. Inquiries for groups can be made at Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others. As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 69 countriesSuggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries.

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Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.


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