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South West England Road Trip

29-31 Oct 2005 - A visit from Court (it's great to have him close enough to visit... we'll miss him when he heads back to the USA in December!) prompted our road trip to South Western England - Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Wells, Glastonbury, Bath, and Bradford-upon-Avon. We also dubbed this the 'churches and fairies' tour, since we visited a couple of stone rings (henges), a few impressive cathedrals/churches, and [one of] king Arthur's grave[s]. Paul was our fearless (or at least very, very brave) and we all agreed that while roundabouts may work for horse-drawn carriages they are just unnatural for cars. We stayed in a self-catering cottage on a farm a mile outside of Wells. This worked out very well for us and we were able to take a break and enjoy our trip at our own pace.

Sat 29 Oct - Avebury, Stonehenge and Salisbury

We left Cambridge early(ish) on Saturday morning for the World Heritage site of Avebury in Wiltshire. This site is a HUGE megalithic stone circle, the largest in the world - big enough to fit a small village in the centre. We'd love to know the who was the first guy (irreverant? defensive? interested in making money off tourists?) to build in the middle of the circle. After paying the parking fee, you can just wander in and out of the stones (and sheep). It is hard to tell just how big the site is from the ground. You can see an aerial photo on Multimap here. There was a medieval farm and abbey on the edge of the site and that proved a nice place for us to eat lunch. About a mile from Avebury is Silbury Hill, the largest man-made hill in Europe. No one knows who built it or why. It is currently in danger of collapse because of tunnels dug by the Victorians to determine whether it was a burial mound (no evidence was found).

The rings of Avebury The rings of Avebury Court taking photos at Avebury Stones at Avebury
The world heritage site of Avebury covers a much larger area than we visited. In the fourth picture you can see more stones leading away from the main rings.

The rings and sheep of Avebury The stones of Avebury Paul at Avebury Avebury
You can walk right up and touch the stones at Avebury, as long as you avoid the sheep and their sh..leftovers. No alien 'Stones of Blood' here. We've decided that if Paul every writes a new age book or album, he has to use this picture on the cover. In the fourth picture you can see the town of Avebury in the middle of the circles.

Avebury Medieval barn at Avebury Medieval dovecote of Avebury Silbury Hill from Avebury
There was a medieval farm at Avebury and the barn is now used as a museum. The round building in the third picture was the medieval dovecote, used to roost pigeons for winter food. Yum. In the fourth picture you can see Silbury Hill rising in the distance (above the car park).

After we left Avebury we headed straight for Stonehenge, on the Salisbury plain. It is very impressive and does look just like the pictures, but you can't (unfortunately) get very close to the stones because some idiot with a can of spray paint got too close a few years ago. Stongehenge is much smaller than Avebury (although the site was larger than it is in its present day state) but it is impressive in its own way. It doesn't take very long to see Stonehenge, because there is nothing near it but grass and the highway (practically on it!).

Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge
Stonehenge Stonehenge Stonehenge

From Stonehenge we headed to Salisbury to see what is considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in England. Salisbury is also know as the 'Venice of England' (though there is plenty of water most places here...) because the river Avon flows throughout the town. It is a very pretty town and the Cathedral was very beautiful.

Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral Salisbury Cathedral
Salisbury Cathedral

We next drove to Wells and found our accommodation (after a few tries), then had dinner at a pub in town.

Mendip Hills Mendip Hills Mendip Hills Mendip Hills
Mendip Hills

Sun 30 Oct - Wells and Glastonbury

After enjoying the extra sleep given to us by the time change, we went to church in Wells and then walked around the town. Wells also has a very beautiful cathedral, which we were able to visit in bits and pieces between their services. We looked out at the Bishop's Palace (which looks like it could have been build just to give painters something to put in their backgrounds) and Vicar's close, said to be the oldest planned close in Europe.

Bishop's Palace,Wells Bishop's Palace, Wells Bishop's Palace, Wells Wells Cathedral
Wells Cathedral Wells

From Wells we drove to Glastonbury, a place associated in legend with King Arthur, Joseph of Arimethea, early Christianity, and oddness. It's indicative of the place that all the brochures included a note like: 'visitors are asked not to hold ceremonies or services without prior permission from the managers'. We visited the ruins of Glastonbury abbey, one of the first Christian churches in England and a site of pilgrimage since it was founded. King Arthur's tomb [one of them] is said to have been found here in the middle ages, but it was lost in the dissolution of the monasteries. After the abbey we hiked up Glastonbury Tor, a rather mysterious hill with a church tower from a medieval church on the summit. After the Tor, we couldn't resist visiting the Chalice Well and Gardens, a 'world peace garden'. This garden contains the Chalice well, a mysterious/magical spring where Joseph of Arimethea is said to have washed the holy grail (hence the red...iron... tint of the water) and a spring where you can taste the allegedly healing waters (Columbia City well water compares well, but not quite as cold).

Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury Glastonbury Abbey Glastonbury
Glastonbury Glastonbury Tor from the Abbey Glastonbury Glastonbury

Having had our fill of spiritualism, we headed back to Wells and stopped into the only 'grocery' store that was open (Tesco closed at 4... we got there at 4:15 because the one in Cambridge is open until 5) to pick up supplies for dinner. After eating dinner and drinking our (disappointing) fancy wine we enjoyed Sunday evening television.

Mon 31 Oct - Bath and Bradford-upon-Avon

After a leisurely start to our day, we packed up our things and drove first to Bath, another world heritage site. Here we were able to visit the best preserved Roman baths in the world. The complex is quite impressive (matches the admission fee) and the baths we naturally warmed by a hot spring that is still running. In the Victorian pump room we 'took [drank] the waters', which were definitely warm, slightly fizzy, and tasted of iron. We then visited the church, which is all that remains of Bath Abbey. It was certainly one of the most tourist-friendly churches we have visited and the only one which made a point that there was no admission fee but you were free to leave a donation if you wished. There are some churchs that you can't enter without going through a glass door, past a reception desk with a cash register, where they make it plain that you must give a 'donation' to enter.

Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath
Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath
Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath Roman Baths at Bath
Roman Baths at Bath Bath Abbey Bath Abbey Bath Abbey

Before heading back to Cambridge, we stopped at Bradford-upon-Avon, to visit the Saxon church of St Laurence. This is one of the only places in England where you can really get an idea of what a Saxon church would have been like. Most of the time, Saxon churches have been incorporated into later churches in such a way that it is difficult to understand them.

Bradford Bradford Bradford Paul at Bradford

We returned to Cambridge in the early evening, though based on the light you would have thought it was the middle of the night.

Updated 5th Nov 2006