Bespoke Travel with a Renaissance Man

Story by Ammie Bryant and Jefferson Bryant, Photos provided by Robert Wakeling

Stillwater is a beautiful community to live and work, but the world is large and filled with wonderful places ready for adventure. One of those places is Great Britain, a land steeped in history and an absolute treasure trove of experiences for the modern traveler. You could easily buy plane tickets, book a hotel, and proceed to spend the next ten days sitting on a cramped tour bus filled with schmucks who did the same thing you did. Or you could let local UK transplant, Robert Wakeling, prepare a personalized and not at all “touristy” tour of England. Based out of his hometown of Colchester, England, Robert personally shows you all the wonderment of England, beyond the standard fare. Other tours let you tour England, with Robert, you get to live it.

Robert Wakeling welcomed us into his Stillwater home to talk about the customized tours he leads to his hometown of Colchester, as well as other sites of interest throughout England and Scotland. Photo by Jefferson Bryant.

Born and raised in England, Robert earned degrees in physics, mathematics, and engineering. He spent time in Scotland where he planned to study astrophysics before he was recruited by Ford to work in  engine design. In 1998, Mercury Marine offered Robert the position of Vice-President. On his first trip to Stillwater, he met Kelly Hackler, who had been asked to show him around town. He took the position with Mercury Marine and today, Robert makes a home in Stillwater where he is happily married to Kelly—his first Stillwater tour guide.

Robert has a passion for many things, from vintage cars and motorcycles, to photography, music, good food, and travel. An avid music lover, his home is filled with classic Gibson and Fender guitars, thousands of albums, and of course, Robert’s very own hand-crafted audiophile amplifiers and speakers on which to listen to the greatest medium ever created for recorded music—vinyl. Step out into the garage, and you are greeted by a collection of european cafe bikes and a British Racing Green Jaguar roadster, which Robert drives regularly. A true Renaissance man, Robert is also a collector of experiences, and his tours of England and the UK will help you build yours.

After retiring from Mercury Marine, Robert lectured at Northern Oklahoma College and Oklahoma State in mathematics for nine years. While lecturing, he began offering trips for his students to England. The trips became quite popular and he extended them to his students’ families and then to anyone who might be interested in a custom tailored travel experience.

Robert’s tours are based out of his hometown of Colchester, England’s oldest documented town. Robert likes to plan his trips to allow travelers to immerse themselves in the local culture, from food and music to art and history, Robert guides his tours around the tourist traps and pitfalls. Trip itineraries are designed to allow time to see and do the things that each individual most wants to experience. A typical itinerary encompasses two to three weeks often with bigger excursions planned every other day to allow time to rest and savor the local flavor in between.

Robert began his venture into bespoke travel with the goal of introducing his students to new experiences. A big part of these experiences is meeting the locals and doing what they do. If you want to visit Buckingham Palace to view the changing of the guard, you can do that too, but Robert warns that there lies one of the pitfalls many visitors stumble into: fighting the hoards blocking the view with their iPads and cameras as they attempt to capture an iconic snapshot. Robert wants to help you make special memories that you will look back on with fondness not frustration. He is available every step of the way to make sure your trip provides authentic English experiences.

St. Botolph’s Priory in Colchester, Essex, England. Established circa 1100, St. Botolph’s Priory was the first and leading Augustinian convent in England until its dissolution in 1536.

A typical trip includes a stay in a fourteenth century hotel where the staff makes everyone feel at home. Breakfast is a highlight of each day and includes options like a variety of cereals, fruit, yogurt, cold meat cuts, cheeses, toast, croissant, a traditional full English breakfast or kippers with scrambled eggs. The hotel is adjacent to a castle that dates from the eleventh Century, with parts of the original fortified town wall still in existence in many places around the town. The castle is built on the foundations of the earlier Roman Temple of Claudius built around AD 56. These foundations with their massive vaults can be viewed on a castle tour.

Portobello Market

Some days you will travel by train to London. As part of the travel package, Robert purchases provides that provide access for a full days travel on all central London tubes and double decker buses.

In London you can explore famous markets, shops, and stores and enjoy fine dining and a candle lit classical music performance at St. Martins in the Field—one of London’s oldest churches dating from the eleventh century.  On another day you’ll visit Covent Garden Market in London then walk through historic streets to Leicester Square, explore Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and the famous shops on Regent Street. In the evening you will visit Regents Park, one of London’s largest royal parks where you will see a world renowned theatrical performance in an open air theater.

Regents Park Open Air Theatre

On another day you can explore a British boot fair. Rather than hold garage sales, Brits gather at a local park to exchange or sell their goods from the ‘boot’ or trunk of their cars. Just outside Colchester is one of the largest boot fairs in eastern England, and an excellent place to spend a sunny Sunday morning searching for a that unique treasure you would never find at home.

Robert also plans a day in Cambridge, home of England’s most famous university. On the grounds, you’ll cross the river Cam with numerous punts manned by knowledgeable students for hire. Later, there is dinner in the courtyard of the Eagle pub, where Watson and Crick announced the discovery of DNA in 1953. That evening ends with an outdoor production of a Shakespearean comedy.

One truly authentic local experience is lunch at the Company Shed on Mersea Island. Renowned as one of the best seafood restaurants anywhere, boats deliver fresh caught fish is prepared and brought to the table moments later. Bring your own wine, bread, and anything else you might need; the Company Shed only supplies the seafood.

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In the county of Kent, you will see Hever Castle, home of King Henry VIII and his wives Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves. Here you will tour the castle and grounds, then close the day at the picturesque open air theater.

Hever Castle is located in the village of Hever, Kent, 30 miles south-east of London. It was built in the 13th century as a country house, from 1462 to 1539, it was the seat of the Boleyn family.

A final day in London provides the opportunity to visit famous sites like the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the London Portrait gallery. Dinner and a visit to one of London’s oldest theaters provides a spectacular end to the day.

For the past eight years, Robert Wakeling has been planning and leading his customized tours of England with groups of around eight on each trip. He plans the trips for the summer months and usually takes about three different groups from June through August. Since retiring from lecturing in mathematics, he has begun expanding his tours into Scotland and plans to add a trip to Ireland as well.

Visit RobertWakeling.com to learn more about Bespoke Travel with Robert Wakeling and to view detailed itineraries and start dreaming of the possibilities. Then contact Robert to start planning your authentic English (or Scottish or Irish!) experience today.  

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