Wednesday 11 April 2012
Anderson Tours - Avebury, Glastonbury and Stonehenge (yes again)
What a day. I emailed the company two days prior to the tour to advise that I had changed the hotel I had originally advised when booking the
tour. I asked if they could pick me up or to let me know where to go for pick up.
Instead of emailing me back, the rang me, on my home number. They woke mum up at 3.00 am in the morning to advise that the pick up would be at my hotel. What were they thinking? I had time travel to get to London in time for the tour? I checked my email for a response. Mum had posted on my facebook about the call, which I'm really impressed that she did that without help. She did very well.
I checked the email and I'd had three responses from them, two advising a pick up time and the third confirming the time, a half hour later. Needless to say I was a little apprehensive about the tour after this. I was picked up at the later time stated and off we went.
The guide and driver were lovely, as they all are on these tours. The bus was small, a sixteen seater with only five booked passengers so we had seats to ourselves. It was going well until I noticed the driver looking at a British equivalent of the 'Melways' maps, while he was driving on the three lane freeway.
We were in Warwick near Warwick Castle and the driver had to stop and look at the maps, realising that he should have turned off at Oxford. We were miles out of our way and ended up travelling all over the place before getting back on track. It was a nice drive through the country, but it two four hours instead of two as planned.
At first I was annoyed, then worried as the driver just didn't seem to be watching the road. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that we would get there, however late, so no use in fretting.
Pigs and chicken farms are free range with pigs having their own little shelters and chickens with huge sheds to roost in. Nice to see.
We also saw ten parachuter's one on top of the other in a vertical line as they descended. Not sure where they were from.
There was a mother and daughter from the US on board. They were nice and we shared a drink in the Red Lion pub in Avebury. The others on the tour were three girls from Slovenia. We had heaps in common as they were new agers and had been to all the sites before.
They were full of questions about the creepy crawlies of Australia, having heard some horror stories about our native creatures.
They made me laugh with some of the stories. One of the girls asked me if I had seen the poisonous blue earth worm. I assured her that if it existed, it was rare.
They were very worried about our snakes, but again I told them that in the cities you have little chance of seeing one.
Getting close to Avebury, we drove past Silbury hill and the site of a wooden henge, marked only by markers as the wood has long gone.
Finally, we arrived at Avebury, and the wait was worth it. I thought Stonehenge was special. Avebury is so very much more. The village is small and built in and around the stone circle. The circle has saracen stones, the big upright ones, and an altar stone, with concrete markers making the spot where stones had been taken from the circle.
This is what I expected, totally, in all respects. The lovely little village, still with the old world look, despite the cars. The stones, giving off energy that was palpable.
Stone circle at Avebury
We had an hour. Not enough, never enough time for me. I decided in the first ten minutes that on my second trip to England, I would come and stay in his village. It felt wonderfully unspoilt and not at all overcommercialised.
Avebury stone circle
The village is exactly five miles from every other village nearby. When Henry VIII broke away from the church and announced himself as the divine ruler, those not wishing to acknowledge this were called non-conformists. Henry declared that they could still worship at their own churches, but that they must do so outside their villages, by a minimum of five miles. Avebury has a church built five miles from the nearest villages, which was erected by non-conformists.
Avebury stone circle
I wandered around the stone circle, which takes about twenty minutes to walk around. I approached the first stone and put my hand out to touch it, as this is allowed. I had the most distinct impression that I was about to put my hand through the stone and when I closed my eyes, it felt as if the stone had wrapped itself around me. Sounds too far fetched to believe? After we got back onto the coach, the three slovenian girls were talking and we exchanged stories. They too felt the same experience.
Avebury stone circle
I walked around the altar stone three times, saying a prayer for the dead. There are two bodies under the flat stone. One of a twelve year old boy and another child, buried approx 1000 years later. No-one, of course, know why for sure, but there is speculation that there may have been a famine or disaster to warrant another human sacrifice. We'll never know for sure.
The Red Lion Inn - Avebury
There were all types of people walking around the stones, many were druidic, wiccan or just plain interested in the circle. Most of them were feeling each stone, which gave of tingling energy.
I left the stones as the village was drawing me to explore. There are thatched rooves, stone cottages, beautiful gardens and quaint chocolate box looking cottages here. 'The Shop' is the local shop supplying the bare grocery lines and fresh produce. Every villager is expected to work in the store for an hour a week. They all supply their own produce to the store, giving everyone a chance to have fresh food as the nearest supermarket is miles away.
The Red Lion Inn
The shop nexty door, and next to the last shop in the village of two or three shops, is 'The Henge Shop'. The man who owns this shop is the world's leading authority on crop circles, for we are right in the heart of crop circle land.
The four poster bed came about, so the tour guide assured me, because mice and rats were prolific in the thatched rooves. When you woke in the morning your bed was covered in mice and rat droppings, so they built canopied beds to catch the droppings. Not very romantic, but practical for the times.
Avebury is also in the very near vicinity of one of the biggest army bases in England. The Department of defence bought 9600 acres of land for their war games, leasing the land back to the farmers. There are numerous tank and army transport crossing areas as you drive through the Salisbury area, even around Stonehenge. The army have confessed to making many crop circles, but there are still some that are not explained.
The crop circles are not as prevalent these days as many wheat crops have been replaced by canola, which now makes up 20% of Britains cropping land.
Back to Avebury, I wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere. I talked to the ladies in the shops and found them to be friendly and very patient with the tourists. They agreed that they would not want to live anywhere else in England, and I could see why.
Last in my little trip, I walked to the Red Lion Hotel. The Red Lion is a lovely pub with tabls out the front and a warm atmosphere inside. It's in the top ten for most haunted inns in England. Florrie is one of the ghosts said to haunt the pub. She was a friendly girl, Florrie. Her husband came home and found her being very friendly with her lover. He killed the lover and threw Florrie down the well, which is located in the middle of the pub. She is said to regularly haunt and scare the drinkers.
However, it's the ghosts of two little boys that have made even the bravest man flee in fear. The two little boys were seen in one particular room upstairs and for a long time there was a prize of £5 for anyone who could stay the night in the room. Apparently the two boys appear clear as a bell in the room and looked terrified and pleading for help. When you try to approach them or speak with them, they disappear. Until the room was permanently sealed some years ago, no-one had ever been able to stay the night in the room. Scary, but exciting. I found the pub friendly and not malevolent. I had a lovely chat to the two American ladies while we enjoyed the atmosphere.
The well - Red Lion Inn
Reluctantly, I boarded the coach and we left for Stonehenge, about twenty miles away. When we got there, the car park was full and there were people everywhere. I was excited as the farmer who owns the farmland had opened up the Carsus Barrows (across the road from Stonehenge) for the public, which doesn't happen very often.
The photos don't show it, but Stonehenge and the barrows are not on level ground. Salisbury Plain is rolling hills, not flat ground. I walked up the hill to the mounds and was disgusted to see families having a picnic on one of the mounds and plenty of people climbing all over the mounds. I really felt like asking how often they go to the cemetery to have picnics on people's graves, but didn't. They are just ignorant and very selfish, walking tracks into the burial mounds, with no consideration for preserving the mounds for future visitors.
Each mound holds the beaker people, so called because they are buried with beakers of food and drink. When they died, they were laid out on flesh racks so the animals and birds could strip the flesh from their bones. Once this was done, they were placed into the foetal positiion and buried together with the beakers and other essentials in the mounds. The mounds were covered with white chalk. It is interesting that when you look at Stonehenge from the mounds it appears on the horizon line and vice versa. Obviously significant to those who created the mounds and/or Stonehenge.
Carsus Barrows - opposite Stonehenge
There are over 1500 burial mounds throughout Wiltshire.
I paid my respects to the ancients and walked down the hill, knees complaining a little, but not too much.
Back in the coach, we headed off to Glastonbury, which is where we were supposed to have lunch, but it was almost 5.00pm when we arrived. I have no objection to any religion, but lots of these people obviously have embraced the new age and pagan faiths just to be seen and noticed. I'd like to see the rule that says you must look like a lost flower child of the sixties to be pagan. I don't look anything like these people. Still, I suppose they are all looking for something and if Glastonbury is their Utopia, I don't object too much.
90% of the shops are wiccan, new age or spiritual in some way, with colourful shop fronts and magical names. If you want to experience an alternative lifestyle, then here is the place for you.
I wandered from the street to the Abbey. Glastonbury Abbey is supposed to be the burial place of Arthur and Guinevere, but that's not so if the legend is correct. Nonetheless, the Abbey is impressive as all churches of the time are. Ruin or not, you can feel the history and almost see the nuns in the grounds. I did see a grey figure standing still as I walked toward the Abbey. Thinking it a statue, it gave me a start when it moved and darted off around the Abbey wall. I followed, but it was gone when I turned the corner.
That was my first grey squirrel, which are everywhere in England, but had so far managed to be elusive for me.
My next surprise was amazing. I was walking down to the Abbey when I spotted two familiar faces. No. That can't be right. I'd met a lot of people, but there would be no chance of bumping into any of them, right? Wrong. As I walked around the Abbey grounds I ran into them again. They were the young couple (their names escape me) who I had sat with on the plane from Singapore to London. What are the chances of that happening? Seriously, these coincidences happen to me all the time. I wish I knew why. It was pretty unbelieveable.
The lady's chapel on the grounds of the Abbey were intact and displayed how life was for the monks and nuns. It was a hard life, with much of the money made by the church being sent to the cathedrals and bishops of the day. Even worse for the people, who worked for the churches in the villages.
For every beautifully constructed church, which are a marvel of engineering and a lasting tribute to the masons of the day, I can't help thinking of the people in the villages who suffered hardship whilst the church poured money into making these lovely churches. I suppose that the people may have wanted it as much as the church?
Hungry because I hadn't eaten since 7.30 am, I wandered around the streets and found a chippie. I had the English cod and chips with mushy peas. I'm finding it hard to get food suitable for me, but I'm only eating a couple of times a day as I'm too busy getting about. I figure the exercise will balance the higher carbs.
I had wanted to go to the Chalice Well, but it was a bit of a walk and although I headed that way twice, I turned back again. I figure that will be on the list for my return visit as it was nearly closing time when we got to Glastonbury.
Our trip home seemed to take forever, but finally I was dropped off at the hotel at 9.30 pm. Big day and I was pretty tired when I finally got up into my room. The trip took in Warwick, Banbury, Newbury and finally to Avebury on the original agenda.
So far I've taken some great pictures and been pretty happy with the trip. It's sad to see so much commercialization of some of the sites, but I suppose that's progress.
I've met a variety of people from all over the world and they have all been nice, even the Americans, although some of them are a bit snobby. They all seem to be fascinated with Australia and ask heaps of questions. Their level of ignorance about us is staggering. I think that it's so far away from other countries that there is no need to know. Although it's somewhat annoying when they are basing their knowledge on those trashy tv shows like Neighbours and Home and Away.
Thursday 12 April
I slept well last night, having had such a big day out touring, You get very weary, travelling about, so my suggestion for anyone else travelling is to have a couple of days out and then a quiet day to rest and revive.
I packed my bags, said goodbye to my shoebox of a room. It came to me that the bedroom part of the room is no bigger than the cells in the Old Melbourne Goal. I've confirmed my late arrival at the Moray Park House in Inverness as the train arrives at 8.10 pm.
Getting on the train I changed trains and got off at Kings Cross Station, which is also St Pancras station, if you walk in the wrong direction. I know this because that's what I did. I allowed an hour to find the train and get on. I made it with five minutes to spare, having walked the length of St Pancras, finding I was in the wrong station and then going to King's Cross, I got talking to a woman from London while waiting or the platform number to appear on the big screens. In my relaxed state, I forgot about validating my rail pass and had to go back as I tried to board the train.
Platform 9 3/4 Kings Cross Station
Of course I couldn't visit Kings Cross without seeing platform 9 3/4. I just caught this woman with her trolley halfway through the wall. It's unfortunate that I ran out of time to go through and get a good shot of the Hogwart's Express.
Kings Cross station
Panic stations for a few minutes but I was in and out oif the ticket counter quickly and made it on time. The trains are spacious and have tables like airline seats. There are bigger tables too which seat four people. Every seat has a power point to plug in the electical appliances, which is how
I'm writing the blog for the last couple of days whilst sitting on the train. The seats are wide and comfy and a food and drink trolley comes along regularly.
The train takes eight hours to Inverness through York, Castlemaine, Edinburgh and then Inverness. I'm enjoying the countryside and have even seen a border collie working sheep.
Just stopped at Berwick on Tweed, which is on the sea. The train is nowing filling up with the delightful sound of the Scot's, mainly from Edinburgh, although I can hear the odd Inverness accent in there too.
The next big stop was Edinburgh. Got a glimpse of it as we came into the city, but I was looking at my photos. I looked up and was amazed to see the highest sheer cliff right in front of me and atop that, Edinburgh castle. Wow! no, really, WOW! It was huge and very daunting, sitting watch over the city high on the cliff.
We left Edinburgh without seeing too much of anything else as the train went through a long tunnel. All along the train line from London there were farms and lush green fields. Lots of sheep, horses and a few cows, with an enormous pig farm somewhere between London and Edinburgh.
As we neared Edinburgh the forest areas became thicker, with huge spruce, pine and birch trees. The birch were in stark contrast to the beautiful blue and grey of the pines as they were only just beginning to bud.
Train vista through the coastal areas of England and Scotland
We came into heavy rain at Falkirk and I was disappointed not to be afforded a clear picture of the town. I did see the Falkirk wheel from a distance and would like to visit there next time I'm in Scotland. The wheel is a mechanism used to lift boats and is an engineering masterpiece. It's also a lot bigger than I thought as I was quite a distance from it when I noticed it from the train.
The country was now becoming hillier and steeper with thick forest. Plenty of foords and streams, running shallow over white stone that looked like slate. The train trip was wonderful as the train was often very high above the valley's, giving wonderful views of the magnificent vista below.
I was beginning to fidget I was so excited and stopped snapping photos, reverting to video to try to capture the feel and look of the country. It is unfortunate that the reflection of the window often gets in the way, but I persisted.
Landscape from the train
We stopped at Stirling which was pretty with plenty of old buildings. There were many old farm buildings, large estates and small stone buildings along the way. It is interesting to note that England and Scotland seem to like building all the houses the same. Even the new areas have exactly the same houses, most all coloured the same and lined up in a row, even if they have big yards.
I'm still not sure I would like to live like that, but there is something asthetically pleasing about them.
From Stirling the terrain becomes rugged, with snow visible on the peaks of the munro's (high mountains) in the distance. The train carriage was hot as hades and I spent the first two hours fanning myself to stop melting into a pool of sweat. The sight of the snow was very welcome and I felt the temperature dropping a little as we started to climb into the lower mountains.
Berwick upon Tweed
Around 6.00 pm we arrived at Perth, with quite a few people getting on and off. The train was the East Coast train. You can book a seat, which will guarantee one for you or you can just get on and sit where there is a space. Each seat has ticket on it that indicates if it has been booked and from what station to what station. The same seat may be booked three times with people getting on and off at various stations.
Basically the rule is, if no-one has their bum on it, then it's fair game. I found the train to be comfortable and the possibly the best way to see the countryside. The views were spectacular and the windows of the train very large to afford a great view.
At Pitlorchy the mountains were a lot closer and the snow very visible when you looked up at their tops. The streams were more frequent, with water seeming to be everywhere. Some had small rapids and they all had beds of stone.
The terrain was giving way to a treeless vista, with the rocky hills covered in what I assume is gorse or heather. It's brown and dry looking and not very hospitiable to walk through. The only things on these hills are highland sheep, with long fleece down almost to the ground, and deer.
It stole my breath away to see a huge group of red deer (I think they were red deer. They were Bambi deer) grazing right beside the train tracks on the hill. I couldn't get a good picture which was disappointing. Then I saw it. A huge stag with an impressive set of antlers. It was standing on top of a small rise, with the setting sun lighting him up from behind. It was stunning. Reminded me of the Stag at Bay picture my great grandfather had on his wall. I was so overawed by it that I forgot to take a picture.
Once we passed Kingussie we headed back into the thick woods. The snow covered mountains were on both sides of the train and the open areas contained the rocky bush covered hills and beautiful streams and rivers.
Stopping at Aviemore I noticed a Roos Leap restaurant as part of the station complex. It boasted an Australian dining experience, but I couldn't see anything else to hint at what they served. The restaurant was full to overflowing, so it must be popular.
Once you come into Scotland, the train stations are in English and Gaelic.
We arrived at Inverness almost at sunset. My oh my oh my! England was lovely, pretty and I enjoyed it a great deal. Inverness is the most beautiful city I have seen and I was overjoyed to feel the great vibe it gave off as I left the train station. I've taken over two hundred photos and videos on the train. I'll probably treble that here.
I was worried that I would be disappointed or not feel truly excited about visiting Inverness. I had felt some disappointment in London and it's surrounds at the commercial feel of the tourist spots, but not here. Three minutes in the place was enough to convince me that I am going to seriously love this place and I think I'll find it hard to leave.
It was too dark to take photos and I needed to check in at the hotel. I'm walking to my first tour, which goes past the castle, about three hundred metres away. I'm overjoyed at my first impression, happy in the knowledge that no amount of shops could possibly take away the history oozing out of all these beautiful buildings.
I'm posting photos tomorrow morning, my time, so check back to see what I have posted from the train trip and the last couple of day's tours.
I'm off to bed. The hotel is great. Very neat and clean. I have a wonderful ensuite with a shower that is lit up with a blue light, almost but not quite, looking like the TARDIS with smoky windows.
I can't wait until tomorrow. I'm off to Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan castle and Loch Ness. The following day I'm doing the Diana Gabaldon Tour and then joining the Clan Tara for a midnight memorial on the Culloden battlefield. Probably won't update the log until the day after that. I'm usually very tired after the tours. Too much exercise, fresh air and excitement.
I'm off to bed, with a promise to post photos before I go tomorrow morning.