My husband, Steve and I thought about going to see the “Sea of Poppies” for quite a while, but when a coach trip was advertised in our local paper we decided to book it, even though a coach trip was not something we relished, but thought it was the only way that we would actually get to London to see this from our home in Devon. It also took in a trip to the Imperial War Museum, which Steve was also looking forward to seeing (although we had been there many years ago) but he was interested in seeing the World War I exhibition.
The trip was with a national coach holiday company, with loads of coaches coming from all over the Country, all on this particular weekend. The booking procedure I could write a separate blog on but I will not bore you with the details here.
Our particular coach came up from Cornwall the pick up in Plymouth on Saturday 1st November 2014. We boarded the coach at 7.00 a.m and after a stop at a Motorway services on the way, we arrived in London at about 1.00 p.m with the first stop being the Imperial War Museum. As we approached, we could see that it was incredibly busy and had already spied the long queue waiting to go in. As it was such a lovely day, we decided to have the sandwiches I had brought sat out on a picnic table before we joined the queue.
Although it was quite long, it kept moving and it wasn’t long before we were actually inside. It was absolute chaos in each exhibition with no system for getting around at all, with people walking around in opposite ways, so you were fighting to try and get through. Well the anticipated World War I exhibition was non existent apart from the only thing we could find was a little cinema room, but it was actually closed to the general public when we were there until 3.30 p.m when mass queuing would start, and as we had to be back on the coach at 4.00 p.m that scuppered that. We had a look around the other floors in particular the Lord Ashcroft gallery housing a huge private collection of war medals. Again there was no system of getting around it and people were walking past in different directions, it was crazy!! We were very disappointed in the visit and decided that we had enough of fighting through hoardes of people, and as the sun was still out and it was still warm we stopped for drink in a nearby pub, before we had to get back on the coach.
We sat on the roof terrace under a palm tree, and we could have ordered a cocktail and pretended we were on a Caribbean Island, rather than looking out on a busy road in London, but decided on a cup of coffee instead. It was a real dive and not a lovely Country pub like we have down in our part of the World.
I must admit that when booked we had forgotten that it was the weekend at the end of the half term week, but once we realised we knew the places we were going to would be busy but not this busy. So we were wondering what the poppies were going to be like the following day, and were we actually going to see them?
Our hotel was in Welwyn Garden City and was about an hour and a half drive away and were looking forward to our evening meal. We arrived at the hotel, when a gentleman boarded the coach to provide us with a menu and we were asked to tick what we would like to eat. The choice for main being battered fish and chips, cottage pie or mushroom stroganoff. We then formed a queue at reception to pick up our room key, and as we were at the back of the coach needless to say we were last.
The room was okay, although it was overlooking the car park, but then being on a coach we knew the rooms would be basic. We were told that dinner would be at 8.00 and we were all ushered into a back room which we had to get to by going outside in the cold and not through the main restaurant as there was a party or wedding reception taking place.
There were 3 long tables laid out and we all sat down waiting for the gourmet delights to be served. I won’t go into detail, but I have to say it was pretty awful and more like a canteen meal. The battered fish (which Steve had) was obviously out of a box and heated through in the oven and the chips were so hard you could have hit a ball with them. I had the cottage pie which was equally as bad.
We didn’t get much sleep as you could hear the loud music from the party which went on until midnight and then overlooking the car park heard people leaving and car doors slamming.
Down to breakfast at 8.00 a.m and we were actually allowed in the normal restaurant to join other guests staying at the hotel, but the coach party was put on large circular tables at the other end of the room. The actual breakfast was much better than the meal the evening before, so after a full English we were ready for the day ahead. Over breakfast we heard that the day before it was extremely busy around the Tower of London with tube stations being shut to try and limit the amount of people who all had the same idea of visiting the poppies in half term week!!! We also found out that there were going to be just under 40 coaches going from our tour operator alone, and the TA had been brought in to help with the masses, as the police could not cope and operators were actually being asked to cancel trips. So we were beginning to think this was going to be a disaster.
We arrived at about 10.30 a.m and once we got off the coach we were all independent so didn’t have to follow a guide with the umbrella!!! The heavens opened and we joined the masses trying to get a glimpse of the poppies, and although it was incredibly busy with the walkways about 5 or 6 deep you could get a view of them and it was an amazing sight and we are really so glad that we can say that we saw this wonderful display in the flesh. Over 880 thousand hand made ceramic poppies filled the moat around the Tower of the London and hard to take in that each one commemorates a British and Commonwealth Soldier’s life lost in World War I.
Our home town of Plymouth played its part with this display as the steel structures holding the stunning cascading poppies were built at the Plymouth Theatre Royal TR2 workshops. These structures held the poppies for “The Wave” display which engulfs the bridge at the tower and also the display of poppies that cascade from a window on the top floor of the Tower which gives the effect of the window “Crying Poppies” and the third display “Over the Top” which is a construction of poppies over the top of the wall of the tower into the moat, seeming as if poppies are gushing out from within the tower.
However it took us ages to get around to the Tower of London entrance where we had tickets to get in, and we were thoroughly soaked. Once we made it into the tower again to join thousands of people, we decided to get a cup of coffee in the café to try and dry off a little. Guess what we had to queue for about 20 minutes to get in, but once inside we did warm up and dry off a bit.
We came outside hoping to join the queue to see the Crown Jewels, but at that particular time it was taking about 1 hour and a half, so we decided to visit some of the towers and walkways and in particular the White Tower which was very interesting and houses the historic battle armour of previous Kings which include Henry VIII.
We were actually quite surprised how much we got around to seeing and thought that we would run out of things to see before we had to return to the coach at 4.00 p.m. but we made the most of our time and thoroughly enjoyed it. We made our way back to the coach passing the moat filled poppies again, and being a bit later in the day was a little quieter, so we were able to video this wonderful spectacle.
It was back on the coach for our trip back to Plymouth, Devon but the journey out of London was horrendous and took over an hour to do a few miles. But we eventually got on the motorway and got back home an hour later than scheduled.
Was it worth the long coach trip, the torrential rain and the thousands of other people who wanted to get a glimpse of this spectacle – yes it was.