England and Noise/Sound

Our England Trip and Noise/Sound Encounters

My wife Mary and I just returned from a very enjoyable trip to England. So today I am posting about noise and sound in England. (At least my small encounter with it.)

The Houses of Parliament, Westminster, London, England

Bells were ringing – frequently. On the quarter hour, the half hour, the hour. (We didn’t hear Big Ben, but we did hear various other bells). Here is a link to Big Ben booming (you can also hear the traffic noise on the recording.)


And in the small towns we visited we heard people “ringing the changes” on the bells in the local church. Here is a video of people ringing the “changes” on a set of church bells. (We love those old churches!)

church bell tower


The Underground (aka London’s subway system) was really loud! Yikes. It is a very efficient system but sitting inside the cars was definitely a “loudness experience”. Here is a link to a video/recording of a trip on the “tube”. You can hear how loud it is inside the car. underground

In earlier posts I have talked about the noise of hand driers. And yes, indeed, they are loud in England too. Various toilets (they don’t call them bathrooms in England) had those Dyson (English) hand driers, which were darn loud. (Apparently some people put their heads in these driers to dry their hair, and have to be rescued by staff!) And I found a number of those damn Xlerators, which get louder the closer your hands are to the vent. (See here for link to my earlier post on hand driers.)

Traffic. Well, traffic is always an issue, anywhere you go. We were in London and Cambridge and cars, buses, coaches, lorries, motorcycles – all the usual suspects of urban traffic noise – were everywhere. (See here for link to my earlier post re: London’s policy report on noise.) I have to say, it is still noisy there.


BTW – there is an interesting project in London (and other cities around the world): the Noise Map. See here for a link to their site. As their name suggests, they have developed software that measures noise levels, and then can be used to “play” with the map by altering conditions.

While we were in London, we went to the British Library. An amazing space. But when we ate in the “caf”, the NC was deeply affected by the legs of the chairs – they lacked rubber tips and made horrendous scratching/scraping noise when anyone moved their chair. Hey BL – get some tennis balls from Wimbledon, and stick them on those chair legs, please!

british library

We also went out to a lovely Indian restaurant. We were seated downstairs, where they have a waterfall flowing down one wall. Amazing sight, and the sound of the water was soothing. But the kitchen was 12 feet away from our table and there was a lot of banging going on; it was a sad juxtaposition to the waterfall on our other side.

When we were in Cambridge, we went to a local pub for lunch. Excellent Abbott’s Ale. BUT – we were surrounded by huge TVs on the walls, all at a volume that the NC did not like. Where, oh where, are the cozy pubs of days gone by? (What is it with TVs playing everywhere?  At the airport, in the pub, in the restaurant, in the dining room at the hotel? The NC spent some time finding remotes and turning down the volume.)


Sounds we liked? Well, I do like the bell ringing in the churches. (We met some people who were learning to ring bells.) So even though they are loud, and some people find them annoying, I found them interesting.

Our two hotels were quiet. I was surprised, in the heart of London, that we heard almost no outside noise in our room, which pleased me no end! So yay for double-glazed windows.

Regent’s Park in London was also a lovely place. Right in the heart of London, it is a quiet, beautiful garden/park, one of several “Royal Parks”. It is 410 acres of land, reserved for pedestrians. An oasis in a big loud city for sure.


And Regent Canal provided a quiet walk too. House boats moored along the canal, it was another break from London’s incessant volume.


We went from London to Suffolk, to visit friends.  What a contrast! Rolling hills, wee towns (each with its own church and bells), pastoral scenery – another lovely break from London.


From Suffolk we went to Cambridge, where we were able to hear King’s College Choir in King’s College Chapel. The acoustics of that magnificent building are truly amazing.


And the choir is brilliant, as they say there. Here is a video of the choir singing in the Chapel. The sound is almost divine enough to convert me.

All in all, we had a great trip, minimally affected by noise. We heard some great sounds, saw some great sights/sites, and visited friends. (If I wasn’t the NC, perhaps I wouldn’t have been bothered by the noise levels. And, with earplugs in, I beat much of the noise we encountered.) London, like all cities, is loud. But how could it not be? Eight million people live there, and even though they have decreased the level of traffic in the city’s core, there is still a lot of vehicles. So you put up with it, wear earplugs, and get out of town to see the countryside. I recommend it.

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