I go inside the stone circle
Sunday 8 April 2012
Forgive my comprehension and spelling mistakes. I'm tired when I write and the little notebook I bought is small and leaves me open to make typo's.
I didn't have to get up too early today as the bus didn't pick me up until eleven o'clock. I packed the camera and video and my big jacket and took the tube into Victoria station. This is a huge transit station and is very busy. I had no trouble identifying my tour bus. I was a brand new luxury coach and was painted a delightful purple.
The tour guide was David and the drive Malcolm. They were funny, helpful and very informative. The bus was full with most of them Americans then Aussies, with the rest being from Asia and one couple from Peru.
David entertained us with lots of interesting facts and spent a lot of time poking fun at the Aussies. He was careful with the Americans and at lunch I had a drink with him and he said that they often complain about him as they just don't get his humour. I know where he is coming from. They are a strange bunch and I just don't get the humour the like.
Anyway, I sat with a woman from Salt Lake City and she was okay. The three people I had lunch with were quite nice. The mother was a fan of Diana Gabaldon and her son was a Dr Who fan, so we had lots of fun talking over lunch.
We headed off to Bath, David pointing out Maggie Thatcher's house, which is easily recongised amongst all the other buildings the same as she has a permanent police officer guarding her door.
We passed by Andrew Lloyd Weber's house around the corner and as you probably guessed, the area was the richest in London. So expensive that most people can't afford to live there so most of the foreign embassies have their consulates there. The Syrian consulate had a big police presence out the front as there has been some issues lately.
PHOTO - LOOKING DOWN AT THE ROMAN BATH
We headed out through Hammersmith and quickly into the countryside, which was surprising to me. There was so much of it. Open commons in the housing areas and farming paddocks all along the way. London outer areas have been in drought for nine years and have introduced water restrictions. David went on about it a bit, particularly when we got close to Stonehenge as he said the effects had been devastating. Good god, the paddocks were so lush, with thick green grass. It was obvious that the crops were not thriving, with Australian wheat less and a few centimetres high and not likely to produce. However, London's idea of drought and that of the drough effects in Australia are vastly different.
The farms began to have hedgerows, which look lovely but serve a purpose. Where hedgerows are grown you can only get a permit to have a wire fence for two years. This allows the hedge to grow and then the fence comes down. The hedge encourages birds to roost and they stay around, eating the bugs in the paddocks and thus reducing the need to spray. Simple and ingenious.
There are pockets of canola growing, although it is not thriving. The farmers are trying to diversify due to the failure of their normal crops of barley and wheat.
We came into Bath and I got a huge shock. I had imagined the place to be a small to medium sized village. It's a big town with row upon row of stone built houses, all exactly the same. It's how the builder John Wood built all his houses. The town is divided into sections, with the rich, middle class and poor areas, The rich sector has three story houses, with cooks and other servants living below ground, the family living on three floors and the upstairs servants and maids living in attic rooms in the roof.
PHOTO - HOUSES IN THE POOR QUARTER, WITH ONE NOT HAVING BEEN STEAM CLEANED AND SHOWING HOW DIRTY THE TOWN WOULD HAVE LOOKED
The middle class sector has no upstairs servants and the houses are smaller. The poor houses only have a couple of levels as these people were mostly workers and had no servants.
The roman baths are in very good order and the display is comprehensive. I loved the roman statues around the top level of the baths, but it was Bath abbey that caught and held my attention. For a pagan wiccan like me it's interesting how fascinating I find the structure or the churches and cathedrals. For all intense purposes this is a cathedral now, but it was erected as an abbey, which means it was for the sole use of the church, not the public.
Anyone who has read Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth will be interested to know that this is it. This building is an exact replica of the pictured sketch in the book and therefore I fell in love with it. The flying buttresses stood out high on the walls, which are no longer used in church buildings, The inside roof had fanned designs and the impossibly high stain glass window dominated the interior.
PHOTO - BATH ABBEY
I looked at it from all angles and just drank in the marvel of how something so beautiful, so huge and so elaborate could be built in a time when only rudimentary tools were used. Breathtaking. I took a lovely picture of the roman statue in the foreground of the church, signifying the creativity of both races despite one predating the other by hundreds of years.
Looking at the abbey I couldn't help but think of the cost, and how the church could have spent that on the people, rather than an ostentatious appeasement to their god.
Bath is on a fairly steep hill but you don't notice the incline as you are so busy looking around. There were thousands of people wandering the streets and buskers in all the open areas around the church.
Our guide took us past Jane Ausen's aunt's place, which is where she stayed for a short time. We then headed out to Lacock for a late lunch.
Lacock was built around 1215. Yes, it's the time the Magna Carta was signed. The Earl of Salisbury was involved in the events around the signing of the Magna Carta, which our own constitution sprang from in Australia.
PHOTO - LACOCK ABBEY
The Lady of Salisbury commissioned the building of an abbey at Lacock in 1215 and it is still in wonderful condition and used today. The scenes in the Harry Potter movie that involved the dining room were all filmed in Lacock abbey. it was unfortunate that we couldn't go in, but I got some good photos of the abbey itself.
Also saw the house used to film the scenes at Harry's parents house. The entire, very small village is in the same condition it was when built, The houses are all stone and the rooves have stone shingles which are still very serviceable. Every now and then you see an s shaped bit of iron on the side of a house. These have a huge nut and bolt in the middle and the s shape is usually imbedded into the stone. The s shape has a rod running from the middle of it, through the house to a shape the same on the other side of the house.
The purpose? I had seen them before, but didn't know why they were there. Houses don't collapse inwards as the roof and interior walls prevent it, but it can collapse outwards. The rods stop the building crumbling out. At the change of the season from hot to cold a man used to come around with a big wrench and tighten the bolt one quarter turn so the building stayed intact.
There was a tythe barn, which was huge, owned by the abbey. Tythe means one tenth and that is the tax that the people had to pay the church eg you have ten bags of cabbages,one bag needs to go to the abbey and you had to deliver it to the tythe barn.
PHOTO - TYTHE BARN AT LACOCK WITH EXPOSED OAK BEAMS
The building itself has a huge roof area and is held up by enormous oak beams. I could almost hear the horses and smell the produce.
If you removed the cars and roads, the village would look like it did in 1215. Unbelievable.
PHOTO - THE GEORGE INN
We had lunch at a low roofed inn called the Old George Inn, named after George Wadworth. There is a huge fire pit in the pub with a spit rod over
the fire. Beside the fire is a wooden wheel. The publican used to put a small dog in the wheel and place hot coals behind it to urge the dog to run. The dog would turn the wheel and make the spit turn. Cruel, my oath, but it was a cruel time.
PHOTO - GEORGE INN FIREPLACE
I got some good shots of the textures of the stone and the wooden doors around the village. I loved Lacock more than Bath, as the village is simplistic, quaint and very much as it was all those years ago. Bath has a very commercial area, which is needed, but I found it intrusive on the historic look of the place.
We headed out of lacock and into the Salisbury Plain. At one point we looked down into a lush valley full of farms and hedgerows. In the distance were the mountains of Wales, with the Atlantic sea further over. Wonderfully breathtaking view of true English country.
We started spotting thatched cottages, which were lovely. I was surprised to see Stonehenge, not on a huge level plain as I envisaged, but on some rolling hills. Sheep grazing in the paddock that held the stones (Wiltipoles, just like mine, which is no surprise as we were in Wiltshire). There were quite a few burial mounds around the area with a few campers camped out on the side roads around the circle.
The cirlce had closed for the day and only a security guard was within the enclosed area around the circle. However there were lots of people still walking around the fenceline, taking pictures and obviously waiting for dusk to see the circle at night.
We went into the walkway under the road and entered into the path that the public take. Our tour guide walked us around the circle first so we could get good shots of the stones from a distance. Malcolm, our driver, told us a very interesting story about a new discovery of a village of the dead, just over the road from the stones. The story is fascinating and one I'll type up later. It hasn't been made widely public yet, but will be. It only adds to the mystery of the stones.
We walked into the circle and although we couldn't touch the stones, we got as close as we liked and we allowed to wander at will through and around the circle. I did touch the stones, inadvertently a couple of times as I was paying homage to the ancients. The stones made my hands hum and tingle and they gave off a lovely warmth. We only had about an hour of sunshine for the whole day and the wind was freezing, as it always is, around the henge. Still the stones remain warm.
PHOTO - WALKING THROUGH THE STONE CIRCLE
Not sure what to do, I played it by ear and ended up paying homage to the ancients who erected the stones, and those that came after who utilised the circle for their own purposes.
There were more than a couple of us who stood in between the stones and wished to fall through to Scotland. This is a reference to Diana Gabaldon for those of you who wonder what the hell I'm on about. An Australian woman was just standing still between the big outer stones. I looked at her and just knew what she was doing.
She said, 'Don't worry about me, I'm just seeing if I can go through the stones.'
'I'd like to do that, if Jamie Fraser was on the other side,' I replied and she laughed, knowing I'd read the books too. I did notice that she tried all the stones. I only tried a couple.
After fifty photos, I was satisfied and then just wandered around and drink in the atmosphere. There were a couple of people who jumped the fence, hoping not to be noticed by the guards as they took photos. The guards sent them packing and apparently this is a normal occurence.
I got talking to the guards, who were very nice blokes. They told me that the heritage trust care for the stones during the day and the security company watch over them from 5pm - 9.30 am. They keep warm by standing near the stones. They also said that the stones are always warm, which is interesting.
There are many different types of lychen on the rocks and the people have rubbed it all off over the years. They are trying to encourage the lychen to grow back, hence the taboo on touching.
Sated, and with a brim full of history for the day, we headed back to London. What a lovely day. I highly recommend Premium Tours, this one in particular, as it was fantastic. I'm on another of their tours on Tuesday, having lunch in the Cotswold. I was apprehensive about booking with the same company just in case they were not good, but now I'm thinking that I would have been happy travelling for all the tours with them. I'm trying out Anderson Tours later this week when I do the King Arthur tour. It will be interesting to compare the two.
Monday 9th April 2012
Raining today, just light, but steady. I have a free day and was planning to go to the Tower of London, but it's a bank holiday and the crowds will be wicked. Instead, I'm catching up on my blog of yesterday's events and doing some laundry. At the moment I'm in the Earls Court Tavern, having had a double shot of Glenfiddich whiskey and some very Engish fish and chips with mushy peas.
My knees are very sore today. Only muscularly sore, nothing with the actual joint. They are fine when I start to walk and I prefer to walk to see the sights. Got a little wet walking to the Earls Court shops, but nothing serious. I have a thin shirt on and just a simple rain coat to wear. I'm happier being a little chilly than putting up with the stifling heat every building. No wonder the English don't like the cold. They average temperature inside is about 25 degrees celcius, way too hot. I'm constantly sweating and hot when I go inside and have to peel off all the layers to stay cool. i have the window open all the time in my hotel room to stop the heat suffocating me.
i have taken hundreds of photos and lots of video footage, from which I will take some good still shots. I'm writing notes on most of the photos, which I recommend doing as you will see so much that you simply forget what you have seen.
The sheer scale of the history in Britain is astounding and nothing prepares you for the vast amount of well preserved buildings and historic sites you can see.
The British museum for example is huge. When Tony Blair came into power the museums were charging the public all sorts of prices for admission. Tony Blair's party made the museums free to the public, with visitors asked for a donation upon their visit. Even if half of them donate, they would make a lot of money. When first constructed, the British museum was only open to the public for a couple of hours per day and visitors had to apply in writing for entry to be granted. Now it's open for all to see.
While travelling around on the on and off bus we drove past Green Park. This was another site I found interesting. It's a verdant park of trees with not a flower bed in sight. The original site was a mass burial place for lepers, with over 60,000 people buried there. It was deemed to be in poor form to dig the earth and plant flowers where the dead were buried and so the park only holds trees.
Also on my trip around the city we passed the royal Horsguards barracks. What is interesting about this building is that the horses ridden by the soldiers are all stabled on the second floor and not the ground floor. No-one seemed to know why.
I saw the globe theatre, which is not the original, nor the second, but the third replica of shakespeares theatre to stand on that site. It is close to London bridge and easily spotted as it is a white gabled building.
St Pauls Cathedral has a tall dome tower, with over 500 steps to the lookout at the top of the tower. Not for me, but there were quite a few little ant like people up there looking down on the city. It's a massive building, even compared to some of the other huge buildings in the city. Nothing could make this building seem insignificant as it has a look and majestic feel all its own.
I'm enjoying London and it's surrounds, but my excitement is all focussed on Scotland and I can't wait to drink in everything this country has to offer. I thought about everything I've seen so far and felt a distinct lack of that 'oh my god' effect I expected. I know why too. There is just so much to take in, so much to experience and see that it's hard to absorb. I think it may take some time before I think, 'Wow, I really saw that.'