Posted by: marymarthatours | August 8, 2012

Touring in the UK – It’s all a matter of pace


Time for fun at Sezincote, 2007 Magical English Gardens Tour

Recently, I chatted with a friend who is planning to tour in the UK this month with a large American-based tour company. I went on line to check out their itinerary and was amazed at how much territory they will cover in just 15 days (14 nights). They will get to Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, staying in eight different accommodations.

This kind of tour is often referred to as a “Highlights” tour, with its emphasis on the most recognizable tourist destinations. For folks who are making their first visit to a new country, or who are reluctant to strike out on their own, these tours provide a good overview. I like to think that people who go on a Highlights tour as their introduction to a country, will find some areas of particular interest that will draw them back for a more in-depth visit another year.

One problem I have with these “see it all at once” tours, is that you spend an immense amount of your time on the road getting from one “highlight” to the next, which may be many miles and hours down the motorway. And because you spend so much time on the road, there is limited time to really experience and enjoy the places you stop at along the way.


Coach on the Motorway (photo by Arriva436)

For example, on my friend’s tour, they will leave Bristol one morning, stop in Bath to see the Roman Baths and the Pump Room, stop at Stonehenge, drive through the West Country, and still have time for “a stroll through King Henry VIII’s Hampton Court gardens” in the afternoon. In contrast, on our 2013 English Quilt and Textile Tour, we will spend an entire day at Hampton Court Palace, giving folks a chance to see the Castle, the Royal School of Needlework, the gardens, the maze, and have a leisurely lunch, all at their own pace.

Pace is the operative word. Martha and I want our travelers to feel relaxed and to have time to sip a cup of tea in a tearoom, read all the signs in a museum, or meander slowly through a garden. We plan our tours to include three or four night stays in most locations, thus allowing time to get out and explore fascinating English villages, towns, and cities. And we rarely spend more than an hour on the coach between stops.


Time for coffee at Blenheim Palace, 2007 Magical English Gardens Tour

Another drawback of the Highlights type of tour is that they stop at very predictable touristy locations. My friend’s tour, like most tours in Ireland, will make the obligatory stop at Blarney Castle, where if you are silly enough, you can hang upside down to kiss a rock that thousands of other people have slobbered on, and pay for the privilege. (I suspect that those Irish folks at Blarney are laughing all the way to the bank.) On our Gardens of Ireland Tour in 2011, we very purposefully skipped Blarney Castle. Instead we had a fabulous walking tour in the picturesque sea-side town of Kinsale and a leisurely amble through the gorgeous gardens at the Ballymaloe Cookery School. I think our travelers got a better experience of the history and beauty of Ireland that day than they would have had by queuing up at Blarney.

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Martha on the Kinsale walking tour and folks enjoying one of the gardens at the Ballymaloe Cookery School, 2011

When I saw the website of the tour operator for my friend’s upcoming Highlights tour, I burst out laughing. Their motto is “the World’s Most Leisurely Tours”. I guess if her tour is “leisurely”, the tours offered by Mary & Martha must be considered “snail’s pace”. We like it that way, and so do our travelers. (You can see our past travelers’ comments here.)

(by Mary)

Photo credit: Coach on motorway – copyright by Arriva463 and licensed for reuse by Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.



  1. The Mary and Martha tours are PERFECTLY paced to enjoy lovely spots each day. Stopping for tea, taking photos in a garden, or enjoying a beverage before dinner help to create marvelous memories when given a bit of time to savor. We love the “snails” pace!

    • Thanks, Sue. You can come with us anytime. Oh, that’s right, you’ve been on EVERY ONE of our tours. I guess you really must like our style, and we love having you with us. Looking forward to another fun time together this September. Mary

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