Updated: Aug 15, 2019
While I was in Britain these last two months, people asked where I’d been and where else I was going, once I explained about “feeding my obsession” to visit and photograph cathedrals. I’d pull out my spreadsheet printout (4 sides of legal) which was color coded and showed me where I’d be and stay, the cathedral(s) to see, and notes on transportation. That usually led to a conversation about planning.
Since this is my fourth trip of over a month in four years with a focus on visiting and photographing cathedrals, I’ve developed a method for researching and plotting an itinerary. Of course, a location has to be selected – in 2016 I relocated from California to Florida, driving slowly across the country (less than 300 miles per day.) A year later, planned around two week long bicycle rides along the Danube, I plotted a route from Brussels to Berlin, covering a section of Middle Europe. Last year, bracketing a 2-week guided cycling tour of Andalusia, my trip concentrated on Spain and Portugal. Most recently, I again primarily used rail transportation to travel through England, Wales and Scotland (Great Britain.)
Once a location is identified and starting and ending points determined, research begins. Wikipedia is my first source for a list of the cathedrals in a country (or state/province in North America). The lists there are usually complete and correct, albeit errors are everywhere on the Internet. For Catholic cathedrals, the website gcatholic.org is a valuable resource, and includes a list of basilicas as well. Finally, because there really aren’t comprehensive lists of Anglican Communion or Orthodox cathedrals, I will resort to numerous search queries online to augment and verify a cathedral city.
Having developed a list with locations of cathedrals, I use easymapmaker.com to create a visual plot. Since I prefer to travel by train, I overlay this map on a map of the rail systems of my destination. With a rough itinerary sketched out, I start looking at the details of rail service, lodging, possibilities of using a place as a base for day trips. The Excel spreadsheet expands as the trip builds, options are explored, timings are identified.
For the 2019 trip, my original plan was to visit the UK and Ireland. Starting in London, the itinerary fleshed out as I planned my journey by rail sweeping east and west as I gradually headed north. Knowing I would need to ferry to Ireland, the Britain portion ended in Glasgow, with stops in Paisley and Ayr on my way to the ferry to Belfast. Planning Northern Ireland and the Republic was a bit harder, as the rail system isn’t as extensive. I was at the 7-week mark when I would change islands, and Ireland looked like 5-weeks more! So I put Ireland on hold, and returned to the British itinerary, adding days here and there, particularly when a stopover was planned between points A and B, and there was no place to leave luggage. Then my friend Mandra asked if she could join me for the final two weeks in Scotland, and I padded my schedule with options to include her interests. Yes, I know that not everyone wants to see churches all the time.
Lodgings are a personal choice – I know that most B&Bs don’t like one-night stays, so I tend to book those evenings in smaller hotels. Of particular interest for me for short-term stays were lodgings in pubs/inns, as they are opportunities to meet locals and get recommendations on local food options. Also important is proximity to both the train station and the cathedral(s). I now know that the former should be considered over the latter, particularly in a city/town with terrain. Train schedules are usually available online and are accurate, so trip planning can gauge when to leave to be in time for a tour or tower climb.
The itinerary was always dynamic. Talking with neighbors, friends, family, even the casual encounter, I constantly will adjust, add notes, tweak my plans. Sending copies to friends a family once it was fairly well set allowed them to “armchair travel” even as I learned this last trip to post occasionally to Facebook. And once on the road, roll with it when something changes, an opportunity arises, or the weather just doesn’t cooperate. Flexibility usually results in something else wonderful.