Authored by Penny Sadler
Somerset County represents quintessential England, with rolling green hills, dramatic gorges, hedgerows, castles, and abbeys galore. Large portions of the county, located in southwest England, are protected areas of outstanding natural beauty.
It’s known for cheddar cheese, apple cider, and the UNESCO World Heritage City of Bath, among other things. Throughout the area, there are so many cultural and historic sites to see that it can be quite difficult to choose one over another.
I had long wanted to see the Roman Baths and dip into the hot springs at Thermae Bath Spa. And there were several villages I was interested in that were best reached by car. However, I did not want to drive in the UK, since driving is the opposite of what it is in the US. I began to explore tours to some of these places, including Wells and Cheddar Gorge.
As I researched various tour options and companies, I learned about In & Beyond Bath. In & Beyond Bath is a bespoke tour company founded by Jules Mittra, a retired professor of English history and politics, and a resident of Somerset County.
There is no better way to quickly immerse in a destination than to take a tour with a local guide. In addition to the history, you get so much more…a friendly face to welcome you to a strange new place is a great start.
I always take a few tours no matter where I am. A good guide will have juicy tidbits and insider knowledge that a visitor simply can’t know without having spent a considerable amount of time there.
In & Beyond Bath offers a number of different tours, including tours from Bath to Stonehenge and Bath to the Cotswolds. As I perused the offerings, the Transfer-Tour seemed the perfect fit. I only had five days in Somerset and wanted to make the most of them.
Discover Authentic England – Hint: It’s Not London
What is a Transfer Tour?
A transfer tour is simply a tour that includes being transported either to or from Heathrow Airport and Bath. How brilliant is that?
Why waste time with trains and buses when you can be chauffeured in comfort while stopping along the way to see some of England’s most interesting sites with a professional guide? It’s like gaining an extra day of touring.
Transfer tours are private, meaning it will just be you and whomever you’re traveling with and your guide, of course. In & Beyond Bath offers group tours to the Cotswolds, Stonehenge, and other destinations.
Which Sites Did We Visit on My Transfer Tour?
Avebury World Heritage Site
The tour Jules planned for me was the classic Transfer-Tour that follows a route called the Great West Way. We would first stop at Avebury, one of the most significant Neolithic henge monuments in Britain.
Avebury is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Wiltshire County, bordering Somerset. I was excited to see Avebury with Jules, because of his deep interest in the site and background as a history professor.
Avebury is less popular than Stonehenge, so it feels a bit off the beaten path. It’s a large area that includes a village which grew until it became a part of the interior of the stone henge.
The stones are spread out, not in a tight circle, as they are at Stonehenge—another reason I was happy to have Jules explain what was what to me.
Fun fact: there are many resident sheep at Avebury.
Lacock Village and Abbey
Our second stop on the transfer tour was Lacock Village and Abbey.
Lacock is considered one of the prettiest villages in the Cotswolds, known for cobblestone streets and thatched rooftops. It is tiny, so you can park the car and walk around the village before visiting the Abbey.
Lacock Abbey has a fascinating history. Founded in the 1200s by the Countess of Salisbury, the cloister is regarded as a rare example of medieval monastic architecture.
Later the abbey was the home of William Henry Fox Talbot, inventor of the photographic negative. More recently, it stood in for Hogwarts in several Harry Potter films.
Between visiting Avebury and Lacock, we stopped for lunch—and coincidentally met up with another guide from In & Beyond Bath who had been touring with an American couple.
It was a lovely day, so we sat out in the atrium and enjoyed the kind of conversation and camaraderie only travelers share. Like me, they were thrilled to have a knowledgeable, adaptable guide committed to showing them a local’s England.
At the end of the day, Jules dropped me off at my hotel in Bath; my day of curb-to-curb service with a heaping helping of history was beyond delightful.
If I could wish for anything else, it would only be more time with In & Beyond Bath, discovering the stories and landscapes of the enchanting English countryside.
To gain more insight into the history of In and Beyond Bath and what you can expect during a transfer tour with them, I asked Jules a few more questions.
Q: You’re a history professor – were you always interested in history?
By the time I was in high school, I was fascinated with how the world had come to be as it was, and was very much interested in learning about the more recent past, i.e., the Cold War, and its influence on the world I saw around me.
From that point onwards, my focus was the 20th century and my degree in Modern History and Politics reflected this. I then went on to qualify as a high school History and Politics teacher, and made that my career for the next 15 years.
Q: How did you get the idea for In and Beyond Bath?
It was a mixture of inspiration and desperation. I’ve always loved traveling, from my very first voyage from the UK to Malaysia at age three.
Having taught in the UK for many years in elementary, middle, and high schools, I ended my teaching career with three years setting up schools in remote, northern Zambia for a mining company looking to give back to their local community.
I knew I couldn’t return to the restrictive British educational system on my return. With no idea of what to do next, I knew I had to get out of teaching.
I started by writing down some of the things I’m really passionate about or enjoy.
From that list, it was really clear that setting up a tour company would provide the kind of experience I sought when I traveled but rarely found. A company that recognized that the unexpected and authentic moments in travel are often more powerful than simply hearing parroted factoids at the well-known but over-run destinations we are all familiar with.
I, therefore, decided to set up In & Beyond Bath in order to share the England that I love and revere with curious, inquisitive travelers looking to personally connect with ‘authentic England’ as much as the must-sees like Stonehenge and the Cotswolds.
Q: What’s your connection to Somerset County?
I love Somerset! Aside from having taught in this shire for a decade and lived there for a short time as well, Somerset is one of the least known, yet most fascinating counties in England.
Somerset is easily equal to far better-known regions of the UK, such as the Cotswolds, but is much less celebrated. It’s very much worth considering for visitors looking to go beyond the obvious and over-subscribed.
Q: The Transfer-our I experienced included a visit to Avebury and Lacock Village. Avebury is certainly not as well known as Stonehenge. What made you decide to include Avebury as part of your transfer tour?
For visitors looking to travel between Bath and London, Avebury and Lacock sit directly along the axis of travel and therefore don’t require a detour in order to be included on a transfer tour.
They both sit just off the ancient King’s Road (or A4 as it’s known today), which winds its way through some incredible landscapes and historic towns.
Stonehenge, on the other hand, lies southwest of London and an hour southeast of Bath, meaning its inclusion on a Transfer-Tour between these two cities adds a lot of distance and time, removing the opportunity to explore other locations at a leisurely pace.
Whilst some visitors will want to make Stonehenge the priority, I’m always keen to provide the richest, best-paced experience possible.
Q: What do you think visitors would find surprising about this area of England?
Just how much to see and do there is, in such a small area. Oh, and how diverse it is, too.
Most of the guests we serve at In & Beyond Bath are from the US and Canada. Often, they book the majority of their time in London, with a few days in Bath or nearby, in order to see a little bit of England as well as the capital.
In almost every case, they leave wishing they’d reversed the length of stay in the two locations. I do understand it though.
Q: Are the tours single-booked, like a person or family, or do they combine people/groups?
Our Signature Tours are carefully designed itineraries that share a must-see with some of the most astounding hidden gems, stories, and off-the-beaten-track routes that exemplify the best and breadth of our local region.
They are bookable on a per-seat basis, providing guests with a slightly more affordable option, and the chance to connect with other, often travelers.
However, they can be booked as a private option for families or groups who would prefer to explore on their own. Our Signature Tours currently include an extraordinary Stonehenge excursion and an equally magical tour that shares some of the most fabulous parts of the Cotswolds.
We also offer a lot of personalized private services, such as day tours, multi-day tours, transfer tours, and more which are built from the ground up around the priorities and interests of our guests.
Our goal is to really empower visitors to have the best travel experience possible for them; we love our region, and if we can provide the kind of experience that allows travelers to have the opportunity to engage with a little of what we find special, and leave with that same sense of awe and appreciation we have for the area, we’ve done our job.