This Week, This Realm, This England
05.21.2008 14 °C
Sunset in Stoford, our first night's stop in England
We've crossed over! Or under. We took the Eurotunnel (can't I call it the "chunnel?" We call our two-dollar coin the "toonie" in Canada, after all...). It was really weird to go under the English Channel on a train going 140 km/h while sitting in your car. Since we were the first car, when we exited it was like we were leading everybody into England: "Come on, everybody! Follow me, and let's drive on the left!"
The Eurotunnel: our car takes a train ride
Jenn and Anica were chanting "left left left" to remind me, and right away we were negotiating highway speeds, roundabouts, turns, and stoplights. We took the route across the south of England, and it was a beautiful day. We hugged the coast for a long time, passed WWII Home Defence bunkers, Hastings (William the Bastard again...oops, I mean Conqueror), and stopped to walk on a beach. A beach! This is England in the spring? Maybe not the usual. With a "scorching" temperature of 26 degrees, BBC radio was soliciting phone-in tips for how to "beat the heat" from its listeners.
So the weather isn't what we expected. But we were very pleased to be enjoying it, and were enjoying even more being able to understand the language being spoken, and being able to read every sign. Although - it must be noted - even the English haven't mastered English. We kept seeing signs for "Disabled Toilet."
Enjoying the drive so much, we decided to push on to the area of Salisbury. We stopped for lunch in a place called Icklesham, at a "freehouse" called "The Robin Hood." Very popular local spot, about 300 years old, a real find considering we passed right by it on the highway.
We are spending the night in Stoford, between Salisbury and Stonehenge, at a place called the "Swan Inn." Expensive, but in a pretty setting. We had dinner in their restaurant, and, again, it was way above average pub food.
Salisbury became the first town in England that we strolled around in, and, predictably, we couldn't resist going into a bookstore. All the books were in English! Ooooh. Aaaaah.
Then we "cooled off" (here's a tip for sweltering Brits) by going into the cathedral. There's lots of see in Salisbury Cathedral, including one of just four copies of the Magna Carta. It's in very good condition, although it won't be for long with the way they've got it displayed, sunlight streaming directly onto it. There's also the oldest working clock in Europe, so old it never had a face; it just chimes the hour. It wasn't a relaxing look around the cathedral for us, though, because Anica was so intent on completing the search sheets that the cathedral workers gave her that she nearly drove us crazy.
Stonehenge followed. Predictably, Anica thought that it wasn't much to look at. I agree. Unlike the intrinsic, awe-inspiring appeal of the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge has to be appreciated in context. It's probably the largest monument we've seen anywhere in the world that predates the Great Pyramids. It's also every bit as mysterious, and almost as exactly measured (especially with how Stonehenge functions as a calendar). Still, without the audioguide, it wouldn't be a long visit. You do get to come closer than I thought to the stones, and the crowds weren't huge today, so we had a pretty good time.
Much bigger than the ones Spinal Tap had
When I told Anica that Stonehenge is one of the most famous "World Heritage Sites," she said it wouldn't be one of her top ones. So I said, ok, if you could pick 10 places as your "Anica World Heritage Sites," what would they be? Thinking back over the trip, as we ate lunch at Stonehenge, here's what she listed:
Anica's World Heritage Sites (in the order she thought of them)
2) The Muslim Quarter in Xian
3) The Forum
4) The Great Pyramid
5) The Mummies Room of the Egyptian Museum
6) Roman Amphitheatre of El Jem (Tunisia)
7) Roman ruins of Umm Qays (Jordan)
8) Summer Palace, Beijing
9) Cao Dai temple (Vietnam)
10) Sagrada Familia
Interesting choices! Let us know what you think!
From the Salisbury plains, it wasn't a long drive to the little town of Hullavington. We were slowed down by laneways marked "tank crossing" (which we had to take pretty seriously because we could hear the booms of firing tanks), and narrow roads enveloped by leafy green trees and hedges.
But we found it easily. Hullavington is the little village we're staying in for the next week. Really little. Their main street is called "The Street." It actually says that on the signs: "The Street." Then there's "Mere Avenue." Well, it's no street. There's also the shop. It has a name, but, still, it is the one and only shop. The fact that there's a nice pub says a lot about English village life too.
"So, go down The Street, and take a left on "The Mere Avenue"
The heat wave is over! Rain and much cooler today. But off we went, to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Practically a pilgrimage, really, to the birthplace of the Bard. The title of this blog entry is a Shakespeare allusion.
The thatched roof kept out the rain: Anne Hathaway's cottage
All of us enjoyed seeing the houses associated with Shakespeare. We started with Anne Hathaway's cottage. Parts of it date back to the 1400s. We also saw Shakespeare's birthplace, and two of the houses his descendants lived in. They're all staffed by soft-spoken, but engaging, people who almost casually tell you about the rooms. Even Jenn and I learned a lot, such as the origin of the phrases "sleep tight" and "upper crust." I can't think of anywhere where we've seen middle/working class homes that have survived. Shakespeare was already a tourist draw in the 1700s, so they've been preserved.
The gardens are beautiful, and the town in general is really picturesque and full of quirky old buildings. We got to enjoy Stratford on a day when it wasn't too busy. Even in Anne Hathaway's cottage, we were essentially given a private tour. It made us feel like we were the ones living in the homes. We also ate lunch at the Garrick Pub, the oldest in Stratford, which was pretty neat. We all had "jacket potatoes." A novelty for us, although I'm sure it won't be for long.
With rain again threatening, we set off today to nearby Avebury. What an incredible complex of prehistoric sites. Driving there, Jenn said, "Is that one of those prehistoric horses carved onto that hillside? I guess it is!" And it was. A huge white horse outline carved into the side of a hill. It could be mistaken for advertising, but, nope, it's about 4000 years old! Then she said, "Look at that barrow, could it be one of those prehistoric earth mounds?" And it was. It was Silbury Hill! The largest of all the mounds in Britain.
Avebury was more scattered than Stonehenge, but more fun, too. You walk through the village, among the stones in the various fields. You can touch them, lean against them (hug them? If you wanted to, but "no climbing"). You share the space with sheep. The Avebury stones are arranged like landing strip lights (see, it could have been aliens....). The rain held off, but the skies were threatening. Just the right look for our walk through the pagan countryside.
Isn't this the cover of a '70s progressive rock LP?
We haven't seen the sun for three days - now that's England! Yet, with no sign of rain either, we decided to make the drive to nearby Bath today. Bath is one of the few places on "Our Big World Trip" that Jenn and I have visited before. It's a prosperous, stately town (or small city), filled with identical-looking rows of Georgian townhouses, all with multiple chimneys. When we were here before, Jenn was pregnant, and her feet started hurting to the point that she sat down and cried. We never got to the "Royal Crescent" and Royal Victoria Park part of town then, so we started there today.
The Royal Crescent, Bath
Of course, we had to visit the Roman Baths. Anica again enjoyed a kid's audioguide AND visual search with a sticker sheet. They've done a great job updating this already world-class attraction. As we travel the world, it's usually either an awesome natural display or an incredible human construction that captures our imagination. In my opinion, the Roman Baths have both. The water you see there has taken 10,000 years since it fell as rain to emerge from under the earth. It gushes forth at the rate of over a million litres a day. The Romans built a series of drains to handle that flow of water - and they're still functioning two thousand years later. Amazing.
For a purely fun day out, we went to Longleat House (i.e. castle) today. It's practically been made into an amusement park in the last few decades. Apparently, the original noble owner probably would have whole-heartedly approved: he is described as greedy and cunning, and tried to get out of hosting Elizabeth I because it was too costly.
View from the centre of Longleat's Hege Maze
Present-day Longleat has one of the best hedge mazes in Britain. It took us over half an hour to find the centre! They have many other attractions (I've read Anica's diary about this, so I'll let her describe it). I will mention the "Safari." This is a drive-through experience like Ontario's "African Lion Safari." The lions were quite active, and passed right in front of our car. We wisely took the "no-monkeys" route, so our leased car wouldn't get trashed.
Our visit to the "Big Pit National Mining Museum of Wales" today was one of the coolest things we've done on this whole trip. First of all, to call it a "museum" is very misleading. Big Pit was a mine, perched on the side of a huge, barren hill overlooking a small Welsh town. Now you get a tour underground, conducted by a former miner. The guy who led our tour was very good, with a dry wit. His favourite saying was "maybe tomorrow." As in: "There are often dangerous gases in the mine tunnels. Not today, though. Maybe tomorrow." His little pauses, and deadpan delivery, were priceless. He took special interest in Anica, who, at age 8, was the age children became colliers before the 1842 legislation. In fact, from age 5 they worked in the mines, opening and closing the doors to the tunnels.
Speaking of school-age children, we were the only other people at Big Pit, other than four busloads of French students from Britanny. Their teacher translated the tour as we went, except for the parts where our guide suggested what we see in Scotland. Yes, he was a Welsh miner, but he sure loved his Scottish holidays!
So there we were, with hard helmets, head lamps, and (on our hips) portable gas masks, 90 metres down, seeing where the pit ponies were stabled, seeing how the miners worked, and hearing about it from a fifth-generation miner who was still working there when Big Pit closed in 1979. It had opened in 1815.
There was also a more typical "museum" display building, but also well-done. Miner's lockers are decorated with exceptional real-life stories. Even the "baths" area is left intact, to show what the miners went through to clean up.
Part of the complex of buildings at Big Pit Mine, Wales
Even more impressive was the multi-media building. It used a virtual guide who "talked" to us over a series of screens, leading us from room to room, each roaring to life with light and sound effects. That showed even more what kind of machines were used, and what kind of life it was. Amazing - and (even more amazing) - there is no cost for admission.
So, that's our visit to Wales. We may be back to see more, perhaps after Ireland, but if not, Big Pit made for an unforgettable day.
Today when we woke up we had a very good breakfast of bacon, eggs, cereal, toast, and drinks. Then we checked out of Swan Inn Stroford and drove to Salisbury (10 km away). When we got there we parked in a parking lot for the old George Mall.
We bought (in a bookstore) a Barbie Magazine for me, workbooks for me, and a guidebook for M & D. We also got pounds from a atm. Then we saw a beautiful Cathedrel. M & D got a pamphlet and I got a "Introduction to the animals of the Salisbury Cathedrel." It was really intresting and big too! We also saw the Magna Carta which was one of the choices on a t.v. show between the Bayeux tapestries! Then we drove to Stonehenge.
As we came over the hill and got our first glimpse at Stonehenge I asked: "Is that Stonehenge? I thought it was bigger!" I thought it was bigger actully! M & D laughed and laughed and laughed! We got audio guides for Stonehenge but I diden't listen to evrey section - probaly 4 out of 7. Though I did find the rocks very cool. for lunch I had a sausege roll, for Mum a sandwhich and for Dad a sandwhich. Then we drove to Hullavington and saw our lovely place then we got groceries, went home, hand humus, pita, olives, vegatables and chips for dinner, had my shower, G.N.! (P.S.) We went on the chunnel the day before thats how we got to England! Goodbye.
Today we went to Stratford. It was a long drive there and I did get motion sick (Gravol not taken). When we got there we drove to Ann Hathaways cottege (Ann Hathaway was Shakesperes wife - Stratford is Shakesperes birth place and home town). We got a book about all the Shakespere houses. Plus a guy gave a tour (a little one) for just us! He told us all about the living room before we headed towards the bedroom. Then we met the guy again and he told us about the kitchen. Then we had a lovely lunch at a inn called the Garrick Inn. Then we headed for Shakespere's Birthplace. We didn't have to by tickets because we had tickets that let us in to most of the houses. This women told us about the main living room before we saw the bedrooms on our own. It was very cool and there were this Canadian couple that looked Indian and were from near Richmond Hill. Then we moved on to Halls Croft where I got a quiz. It was a fun one of course like all the others. Then we saw Nash's House which was like the others! Then went home, had dinner, G.N.!
Today we went to Avebury. Avebury is a bit like Stonehenge but not world famous. It specialized in prehistoric rocks. When we got to Avebury we parked, payed 10 dollers (Canadian) to park in a parking lot. Then we walked into a town, walked onto a feild full of sheep poo and viewed the rocks. Avebury is diffrent from Stonehenge because in Avebury you view them in a town and can actually touch them and Stonehenge is a sight and roped off. After we saw Avebury we went a diffrent way home, had dinner, G.N.! P.S. The rocks were very beautiful and I found them way better than Stonehenge. Bye, gotta show Dad this one!
Today we went to Bath. It was not a very long drive but it was still about half a hour long drive. When we got there the first thing we did was park and see the Royal Victoria Park followed by the Royal Cresent. We alked around for a long time before finding a place called Cafe Hub which had free internet connection which let me do my diary and read. We when went to the Roman baths where I got a kids audio guide and they got a adult one. The tour was log but we got to find out a lot of stuff about the place. It was really intresting especially because they still had water in it! But it was really gross. I also did a family fun trail and got it corect which ment I got a certifacete. We then walked around a bit before deciding to drive home. Had dinner, G.N! P.S. G.N.!
Today we went to Longleat. Longleat is like a no ride amusement park. When we got there the first thing we did was park and do the maze. It was a really hard maze but there wern't many dead ends but a lot of choices but we finally made out way there and high-fived each other when we got there. Then we moved over to pets corner where we saw otters, guinea pigs, bunnys, etc! We also saw a show on parrots where they did: roller skating, soccer, basketball, driving, recycling, races and lots more! They were also really good at saying hello. (P.S. Before the Longleat hedge maze we went on a fun-railway train ride). Then we had lunch and di the safari boats! The seals came right up to us and we bought feed. Then we went to the Adventure Castle Playground and I went on three diffrent slides, two I had to sit on my fleece to make it the kinds I liked and the other one was good! I also liked the trampoline a lot! Then we went to King Arthur's Mirror Maze which I really liked. Then we went to the Safari. We saw lots of stuff before getting Indian food and taking it home! Had dinner, G.N.!
"Starting Work on Monday"
Today we wento into Wales to a place called Big Pit Coal Mine. It started out by getting on a big motorway (PS Canadians and Americans: Highway) M4, with a choice of South Wales and Bristol or London and Swindon. The bridge to Wales is huge! We then drove to tiny town Blanevon where the Big Pit Coal Mne was the signed. When we got there there was four big tourist buses carrying French students from Brittany. We were at the back of the line up nd the teachers told us to go with the first group! "Merci." we said hurrying to the front to go on the tour. Then we got fitted up in tool belts, head-protector helmets with lights attached and that's it! Then we took a very fun elevator ride going 2 meters per second. But it seemed fast. When we got down there the guy said ok now we are going to see the ponies stables. Everybody kept on bumping there heads! Exept me. The guy asked me are you starting work Monday. No I answered but I am eight. "Then take care of the ponies!" The tour went on pretty well but I laughed when Dad knocked out his light for the second time. Then we went up checked out some more stuff, went home, rested, had dinner, G.N.