(Mr. Kim's comments in italics.)
Today was the day that we had to say goodbye to the cottage. It was lucky for me that at this point I had so much more to look forward to. If this had been our last day of our trip, I would have been a basket case. I was so sad to be leaving. The cottage and the Cotswolds villages had so completely lived up to my dreams. Going away from them was wrenching. For reasons we have yet to comprehend, in all our travels through the Cotswolds, we had never driven around Chalford. So we made an intrepid right turn as we left the cottage and drove through a surprisingly big town. We hadn’t seen our host as we left and hadn’t said goodbye, but we thought we saw the family dog tied up outside the elementary school as we passed. There were several churches in darling settings, and a vista of fields and rolling hills on the other end of town from our cottage that was very surprising in its scope, since everything we’d seen up til then had been heavily wooded and with such climbs as to suggest drives in the foothills. We stopped in another little general store in the town for car bottles of water and soda and reluctantly made the turn to leave town.
Breakfast was in Cirencester, at a little bakeshop called Cake. We had bacon butties and tea cakes. British bacon and hot teacakes dripping with butter is the perfect way to comfort oneself. This doesn’t hurt either:
We met this sweet little thing outside a store near where we parked. Where we parked and got a ticket. We had a very difficult time in England figuring out what indicated “No Parking”. There were often (maybe always) no signs that we could see, just random zig-zaggy lines on the street. This is a verbatim list of parking rules from the UK Highway code website:
“You MUST NOT stop or park on:
•the carriageway or the hard shoulder of a motorway except in an emergency (see Rule 270)
•a pedestrian crossing, including the area marked by the zig-zag lines (see Rule 191)
•a clearway (see 'Traffic signs')
•taxi bays as indicated by upright signs and markings
•an urban clearway within its hours of operation, even when a broken white line is on your side of the road, except to pick up or set down passengers (see 'Traffic signs')
•a road marked with double white lines, except to pick up or set down passengers
•a tram or cycle lane during its period of operation
•a cycle track
•red lines, in the case of specially designated ‘red routes’, unless otherwise indicated by signs”
Um…ok. There were many cars along the street where we parked and we looked around and figured it was ok. So we have a little souvenir in the form of a ticket from the Cotswold District Council. How lovely.
I knew that Stonehenge was on Mr. Kim’s ‘must see’ list. But I’d read a lot about the experience and worried that it wouldn’t be as meaningful as he hoped. You can’t get up to the stone circle anymore – they keep you fairly far away and I knew that the encounter was ‘managed’. So when I read about Avebury, I knew we had to make time for it. Avebury is just 25 miles north of Stonehenge – right on our way. I have no idea why it is so unknown. It’s one of the largest prehistoric sites in all of Europe. The central stone circle at Stonehenge is 33 meters in diameter. By comparison, the stones at Avebury stretch out over a 28 acre area! And you can walk right up to any of the stones and touch them – a much more ‘up close and personal’ experience. The Avebury stones weave in and out of the village of Avebury – a charming and tiny little place. As you drive up the road, you start to see the stones:
They are enormous:
This picture (internet photo) will give you an idea of the scope and also shows the circular earthworks:
Keep in mind that the stones extend FAR beyond the circle.
The village of Avebury is the home of about 500 souls, a couple dozen houses, LOTS of sheep and, of course, a lovely C of E church and churchyard:
It was a few weeks after Easter when we went and I was charmed to see in the narthex this tiny little representation of the stone rolled away:
An enterprising young man of about seven years approached us outside of the church. He was selling magic sticks. Even had a little sign proclaiming them as such, in case one had a doubt. For the life of me I do not know why I didn’t give him the quid at the time. Upon reflection I decided to as we left the church, but he had closed up shop and gone inside. A true future captain of industry, that one.
Flowers of Avebury:
Just as you are leaving Avebury, you pass THIS:
This incredibly huge (131 feet high and covers an area of 5 acres) man-made mound is the largest in Europe and was built almost 5000 years ago. Awesome is one of those annoying, overused words, but apt in this case.
I am a natural born scoffer. I have a really hard time believing in anything I can’t see. I don’t believe in ghosts or auras and New Agey stuff makes me intensely impatient (though those monsters that are under the bed when you are alone in the house at night? Completely real.). But there is something significant about such places as Avebury. Maybe it is just the mystery of why and HOW it was all done. But it feels like an important place. Maybe it was the wind, the overcast sky, or even me WANTING to feel something there. Being more of a romantic than my wife, I would have been disappointed had I not somehow “gotten in touch” with the place. But it feels very old and very alive.
It was pleasing to see the folks there. Men with their children, talking respectfully about what this place might mean. Tourists like ourselves, running hands over the rocks, hikers following the chalk trail from Avebury to Marlboro, miles in the distance and beyond the hill over the next hill. No hijinx or horseplay, a few folks picnicking among the stones, a professional photographer taking calendar shots. I have to admit to a little amusement at a 50-something English couple walking a short distance along the chalk path just behind us, calling to us to inquire as to whether this was Stonehenge. It would appear that Americans do not have the entire market on dimness cornered.
A flowery interlude in the churchyard of a little town on the way to Stonehenge:
I wasn’t sure if I was going to get much from Stonehenge. I mean it seems like such a cliché. All of the New Agey crap makes my teeth ache. Pictures like this make me want to kick someone:
I have an extremely low tolerance for chanting and dancing and spells and such. So I went with very low expectations. And I was pleasantly surprised. No one in costume. Just regular folks interested and slightly in awe of something that really is awe inspiring. To appreciate the Stonehenge experience, you need to understand that it could have been done so badly. They have a large parking lot and a ‘Visitor’s Centre’ with snacks and a gift shop. As you enter, you are offered a little electronic thingy that has a lot of recorded information about the history of Stonehenge. Through a comedy of errors, I was given one in Russian and didn’t realize it until it started sprouting gibberish at me. Mr. Kim insists that I said ‘yes’ to the young man when he asked if I needed Russian. I don’t believe that I said any such thing and besides, why would he assume that I was Russian in the first place? Mr. Kim suggested that I looked downtrodden, which didn’t help matters at all. You were wrapped up in a woolen scarf and looked washed out. He looked at you and asked “Russian?” You said “Yes.” He handed you a Das Vidonya tour guide. It’s that simple. ANYWAY, my point is that this could all be so commercial and canned that the real experience of such a place is lost. But it just doesn’t work that way.
For one thing, the site itself is situated in the midst of a vast grassland, the Salisbury Plain, and is surrounded by many burial mounds, called barrows. And while you do pay a fee to get up to the area of the stones, it is only surrounded by a fence that you can see through. So, if you wanted to, you could view the stones without paying at all. I noted that in the states, it would be surrounded by a 20 foot high stockade fence. It would also have a McDonalds and a Comfort Inn just outside the property. So, for me, the experience didn’t feel at all managed or manufactured or canned. It feels infinite and majestic and very, very mysterious. We took a billion pictures of Stonehenge, of course and have been very stubborn about removing any, so I’ll just give a small taste of what we saw:
Salisbury, our destination for the night, is only about 20 minutes away from Stonehenge through more gentle hills and beautiful scenery. We took thousands of pictures during our trip – more than anyone wants to see. But, as I look through them, I wish we’d taken more. More of the in-between places and the approaches to the towns and villages that we went through. I think that what I’d really like is a video of our entire trip, so that I could relive it over and over again. Salisbury was the largest place we’d been to since London and it was a bit of a shock to the system – lots of people and noise and traffic. We got a little turned around a couple of times, but eventually Jeeves got us right. We stayed at the Red Lion-Best Western. When an American hears ‘Best Western’, he thinks ‘generic motel’. The Red Lion was NOT a generic motel:
This hotel, parts of which date back to 1220, is beautiful – both in architecture and furnishings. Though a Best Western hotel, it’s still run by the same family that has run it for almost 100 years. There is a beautiful courtyard in front:
That gorgeous Virginia Creeper vine is one of the oldest in England – dating from the late 18th century.
Some of the public areas of the hotel – the front desk:
This amazing clock, called The Skeleton Clock has an interesting history. The face and workings date only from the 18th century, but the case is thought to have been carved in 1588 by prisoners of war of the Spanish Armada:
Our room was every bit as gorgeous as the rest of the hotel:
If you look in the upper right hand corner of the fireplace picture, you’ll see we even had our own resident “Charlotte” (not real).
One of the fascinating things about our room were two framed in and glass covered sections of wattle and daub walls that were found during renovations. You can even see remnants of the painted decorations:
It was late afternoon by the time we’d checked in, too late to really tour the Salisbury Cathedral, but we couldn’t resist a peek. We wandered the couple of blocks over to the Cathedral Close. The cathedral sits in the middle of an open grassy area and that is surrounded by the Close, which is itself surrounded on three sides by beautiful Chilmark stone (the same limestone used for the cathedral) and the fourth side bordered by the River Avon, which we never saw. (A slight aside here: now that I’m home and writing about our trip, I’m struck by how much we missed. When you are smack dab in the middle of somewhere you don’t know, it’s hard to realize what may be just one block over. I’ll be here at my computer looking at Google maps to get my bearings and notice some major spot that we didn’t know we were so close to. It doesn’t make me feel bad - it’s just something that I’ve noticed.)
The close surrounds the cathedral and consists of burial grounds, large homes that originally housed the bishop, dean and canons. Many of the larger buildings are now museums and schools. It’s a quiet, closed in area – at once private and spacious. Very beautiful and peaceful. Cathedral close pictures:
One of the entrances:
We didn’t do much but peek at the Cathedral itself, since we’d be devoting the next morning to a full tour. To work up an appetite for dinner, we wandered around Salisbury near the cathedral and the hotel. Salisbury is a decent sized town with a population of about 50,000 and I’m sure there was a lot of new building and suburbs that we didn’t see, but the area around the cathedral is lovely and very distinctively English, I think. You couldn’t wander around where we did and mistake it for anywhere in the US.
We stopped at Reeve the Baker for midnight snacks – a treacle tart for me and a jap cake for Mr. Kim. Then we had dinner at a pub called the Ox Row Inn. We just wandered until we found a likely looking place, but the Ox Row had a sign requesting ‘Proper Attire’ and we were in jeans, so we started to wander on. An older fellow who was at an outside table drinking a pint and having a cigarette said, “Oh, yer dressed just fine. If I can go in, you can.” He said the food was good and that they had ‘real ale’. This is a very important and complicated (to me) designation that we heard over and over. It has to do with the ale/beer being brewed in the traditional way. There is a big ‘real ale’ campaign in Britain (and a similar ‘real beer’ one over here, I’ve learned) that goes along with promoting ‘free houses’ – independent pubs. We followed him in and discovered that he was right – we fit right in and the food and drink were quite good. Mr. Kim had fish and chips and I had a bacon cheeseburger and chips. I found the one place that English bacon doesn’t belong – on a burger. It is so lean that it’s like having a slice of ham on a burger. One of the things that is so lovely about a bacon cheeseburger is how the crisp bacon crumbles up and gooshes into the cheese. I missed the crunchy ooziness of a proper bacon cheeseburger. The onion rings, however were just right. The coating was like tempura – light and bubbly and crisp!
Replete, we made our tubby way back to the Red Lion. We stopped long enough for a drink in that gorgeous courtyard. It was jumpin’! Music, partying Brits and other Europeans, raucous laughter. I was hoping for Rachel’s quiet courtyard reflection (a precious alone time she managed in Stratford-Upon-Avon that she described so eloquently to me), but it wasn’t to be that night. So we enjoyed our drinks, eavesdropped on the young ‘uns and went to our gorgeous rooms to scarf our pastries. After all, tomorrow was another day in another lovely English town.