Sunday, May 21, 2000
We got an early start and were on our way by 9 this morning. We drove through the small villages of Upper and Lower Slaughter. No one else was around. We were the only car on the road. I did spot a pheasant (normal size). Both of the towns are very beautiful, and it would be nice to return one day.
Our first planned stop for the day was the Avebury Stone Circle. As we were heading there, we kept seeing "Tank Crossing" signs with a picture of a army tank crossing the road. With nary a wrong turn we found Avebury. As we came into town we passed a very large (and steep) hill. It appeared to be man-made and there were several paths leading to the top.
After finding the parking lot for Avebury, I discovered in my guidebook that the hill is "Silbury Hill". It is several thousand years old and covers over 5 acres. The purpose of this man-made mound is still unknown. You can see the hill plainly from the stone circle (and there is probably a good view of the stone circle from the hill).
Avebury Stone Circle is in (and around) the town of Avebury. We reached Avebury early Sunday morning, and the streets were deserted. The Visitors' Center wasn't due to open for another hour, so we headed out to the stones. The nice thing about Avebury is that you can walk around the stones and even touch them (gasp). There has been some restoration to the circle. Stones that had been buried in the past have been uncovered. There are some stones missing. Somehow they have determined where these stones should be located and have placed concrete markers indicating the missing stones.
As we arrived, it started raining. It would rain a few minutes, stop, and then start raining again. Foolishly I had left my umbrella in the car. So I braved the rain and walked out to the stones. Since everything was closed, we didn't spend much time in Avebury. We snapped a few photos before hopping in the car to head to Stonehenge.
We were at Stonehenge for only 45 minutes. Yes, the place everyone wants to see. Stonehenge is like Mt. Rushmore, you walk up, take a long look and it is time to leave. The parking lot was filled with cars and tourist buses but the site didn't seem crowded. Our Heritage Pass once again granted access. The admission price includes a telephone-tour guide. That is a taped guide that looks like the handset of a telephone with a keypad. At different points you punch in posted numbers and a voice explains what you are looking at. While this is convenient, the taped tour was very boring. There wasn't anything in it that I hadn't heard multiple times on documentaries. I soon stuck the tour device in my pocket and just enjoyed seeing the site.
I was pleasantly surprised at how close you are able to approach the stones. I had heard from several people that you weren't allowed within a hundred yards of the circle. Actually, you are allowed up to within 50 feet or so. You can walk around the entire monument on a concrete pathway. I agree with the idea of keeping people out. If people were allowed in, I am sure you would soon find "Mike Love Sue" carved into the stones.
There is a major road beside Stonehenge, but this was not much of a distraction. The country is very open and you can see a long distance in all directions. Apparently , there are plans to reroute roads away from Stonehenge and try to return it to a more "primitive" state.
We walked around Stonehenge snapping pictures from all angles. There are many other Neolithic sites in the area that can also be visited.
We made a quick stop in the gift shop where I purchased a magnet for my grandmother and a T-shirt for Alan. Then it was back in the car and on towards Salisbury.
How do you find a Cathedral in town? Just look for the steeple and head that way. That was my general strategy, and most often it worked. The steeple of Salisbury Cathedral is so high that I never found a vantage point where I could get the entire cathedral into a single picture. I could get the steeple and cut the building off, or vice-versa.
Salisbury Cathedral is actually located in a walled portion of the city. We found a parking garage outside the wall although we later found places inside where we could park. Fortunately, being Sunday, parking was free.
The cathedral is huge! It doesn't have the history of Westminster or St. Paul's but it is just as impressive. It also has the benefit of allowing you to take pictures inside. It was interesting (culturally) to see that dogs were allowed into the cathedral. And I am continually amazed at the architecture even though I understand so little of it. How were they able to build these magnificent structures millennia ago? How are they still standing? I wonder if the Empire State Building or the Super Dome will be around in the year 3000.
Salisbury has one other item that makes it worth a visit - the Magna Carta! Yes, an original copy (and arguably the best preserved) of the Magna Carta is stored in the Cathedral. There is a small museum where you can view the copy as well as several other ancient manuscripts.
There are several other museums in the area, but we decided to move on to Wells. I wanted to try to reach Wells in time for the Evensong Service. We had just over an hour to get there. I soon realized we wouldn't make it in time so we decided to visit Glastonbury Abbey. Arriving in Glastonbury, we saw the ruins but couldn't figure out where to stop. I drove completely around town (literally) before finding the parking lot. Actually, we saw it the first time around but kept going with the idea of finding a "free" place to park. Forget it - just pay the pound.
Glastonbury is closely related to the King Arthur legend. Supposedly, King Arthur and Guinevere are buried in the cathedral - or what is left of it. King Henry VIII tore down Glastonbury during his feud with the Roman Catholic Church. Today, all that is left is a very impressive set of ruins - providing an interesting contrast to Salisbury.
The only building left standing was the kitchen. I guess it is hungry work tearing down a church. One place on the site has a board that you can lift and see some of the original tile work still in place. There is also a museum about the cathedral on the site.
The town obviously capitalizes on the King Arthur legend. Outside of town is the well in which Joseph of Arimethea supposedly hid the Holy Grail. There is also a large hill known as the Tor. The tourist thing to do is climb the hill. Our hearts were willing, but the flesh was weak. The town seemed lively this Sunday afternoon. There are many, many, many quaint shops eager to relieve you of those pounds. Sheesh, if I could shed pounds that easily in the states I would be the slimmest person in town.
We spent an hour or so at Glastonbury before heading towards Wells. We had missed the service but I still wanted to see the cathedral. Once again, we got slightly lost. I found a parking lot and headed towards what I thought was the cathedral. I quickly found it was just a large church. After consulting my map, we took off in the right direction.
We arrived at the Cathedral just as a Free Mason Service was beginning. Now different people have various views on the Free Masons and I was surprised to see a Free Mason service in a church. Actually, they may do it all the time in the states as far as I know. One person asked if we were Masons - I said no, and then he said we could look around before the service started, but we would have to leave.
A moment later another person asked me the same question to which I gave the same answer. He then gave us a friendly welcome and invited us to stay for the service. I had neither the time nor the inclination. We thanked him for his hospitality and moved on. After a hasty glance around the cathedral we went to find the Cardinal's Palace. Our Heritage Pass did not grant access, and we didn't feel like paying the entrance fee.
Sermon Time! There is something extremely wrong in this hierarchy of clergy. While we didn't enter the home, you could tell from the outside that it was a large and lavishly appointed home. Where did this money come from? And what justifies this lifestyle? I have always believed that a clergy member should live at the same level as his parishioners. If everyone in the church is a millionaire, then it would be fine for the clergy to live at that level. If everyone lives at poverty level, so should the clergy. Ok, enough of the sermon.
It was nearly six and we hadn't eaten since breakfast (besides a granola bar or two). We passed a small bakery shop. I purchased a delicious potato and onion pasty for myself and a "Strip Pizza Pastry" for Alan. Pat didn't want anything to eat.
On to Bath. We made good time and found our way into Bath. We were staying at Brock's Guest House (recommended by Rick Steves - there are many photos of him and his family staying here on the wall) on Brock Street located between the Circus and the Royal Crescent. The first time down Brock Street we missed the B&B. I stopped at the Crescent to take a couple of pictures before turning around to find our guesthouse. Spotting the B&B, I found a place on the Circus to park.
Our room was ready but we discovered it was at the top of 57 stairs - yikes! I didn't want to climb the stairs any more than absolutely necessary. So we went back to the car and got our luggage before going to the room. The room is on the top floor and overlooks Brock Street. There were three single beds and a private bath. The room was extremely clean and lavishly decorated.
Our hostess gave us a map where we could park the car without being ticketed. Many places are open parking during the day but a residence sticker is required for parking at night. There are several lots where you can pay to park in town. Not wanting to pay, Alan and I went to find a place to park and leave the car until Tuesday morning. We planned to spend all day Monday touring Bath.
The one thing that you don't realize from looking at maps is the actual terrain of a place. I was very surprised to find Bath located on a large hill. From the Crescent to town center is a relatively steep hill. Behind the Crescent, it becomes positively vertical! Ok, that is an exaggeration, but it is Duluth steep - don't know Duluth, how about San Francisco steep.
We drove up and down several hills trying to find a place to park (near the bottom). I finally spotted a spot in front of a Pub. Not sure if I could park there, I went into the pub and asked if it would be ok. Not a problem. So we locked the car and headed the five blocks back to the B&B.
On the way, Alan and I passed a telephone pole. So what is the big deal about a telephone pole? This pole was behind a large apartment building, and there was a telephone line going from the pole to every apartment. We counted over 60 lines strung out from this single pole.
Back in the room we decided to rest for 30 minutes or so before finding a place to eat supper. Around 8 p.m. we took off for town with the plan of walking until we found something. Next door to the B&B was a restaurant but their prices were high (to us anything over £10 is too high).
Just a block or so down hill from the circus we found George Street on which were many restaurants. Personally, I would have enjoyed something exotic like a Thai or even the Afghanistan restaurant we passed, but decided to go for something more mundane for Pat and Alan. We found one pub that had an impressive menu and very reasonable prices. Inside, the bar keep told us they didn't serve food anymore. So why did they have a menu in the window and a sign board out front? Actually, I think this was a misunderstanding. Later, thinking back, I realized he must have meant they were no longer serving food that day.
No problem, a block down the road was another pub. Alan had a sandwich, Pat had fish, and I ordered curry. I hadn't yet had a beer so asked the lady at the bar what local brew she would recommend. She did me one better by allowing me to taste several different beers before I made my choice.
The meal was delicious and wonderfully prepared. In fact, in all the pubs I was impressed with the quality of the food. We relaxed for a while in the pub after eating before trekking back to the room. On the way, Pat stopped and made a call back to the states. As we reached our B&B we decided to first go to the car to get a few additional things. We went a different way and found a side street a block away that had several antique stores and bookshops - but more importantly, it had a Laundromat.
I desperately needed to wash some clothes and this was the first Laundromat we had found. On our way back from the car I stopped in to see how late they were opened. They were about to close, but they had a drop service. While this is expensive it is not as expensive as burning daylight doing laundry. So I decided to drop off my clothes the next morning. We also stopped at a small convenience store for some water and other goodies.
It had been a long day. Back at the room I actually took a long hot bath as I read the paper. After a refreshing soak, I climbed into bed and promptly fell asleep.
One thing I noticed today that I have yet to comment on was the "Watership Down" hills. If you have read the book Watership Down (or seen the movie) by Richard Adams then you know what I am talking about. This is a large grass covered hill with few trees. In fact, I saw one hill that I had a single tree at the top. It looked exactly like Watership Down. As Adams lives in the South of England this must be the landscape that inspired him as he wrote his novel.