Because I’d been to London before, I decided I might prefer to book a tour to Stonehenge on our 2nd full day in London. Stonehenge has long been on my “must see” list.
I thought the rest of the crew might like to stay in London and use the day to explore or relax on their own. Gail and Laura ended up choosing to go on the tour with me. The tour we signed up for was to see Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Bath. For various reasons I was interested in all three destinations and was happy to find a tour that included all three. The downside to the tour was that it was easily going to take at least 12 hours start to finish. It was booked before we left home and before I knew that Yvonne was going to join the fun.
That morning we were able to say our goodbyes to Yvonne and make promises to visit each other again soon! Yvonne’s flight back to Ireland left that afternoon, so she planned to spend the morning on her own at the Victoria & Albert Museum before heading to the airport. Elton elected to stay behind and enjoy a relaxing day.
No rest for the weary. The tour left at 8:45, meaning we had to be on our way to where it departed from by 8:00 AM. Gail, Laura and I took the Tube to Victoria Train Station. From there we needed to walk a short distance to the Victoria Coach (bus) Station. Taking my guiding duties seriously, I’d done my homework and studied the map (and brought a printout with me). It turned out to be another case of not exiting the Tube station at the point I’d assumed we would–so it took us a moment to get oriented as to which direction we needed to go. I love maps and love using them to find my way. I was sort of full of myself when I decided it was “that-a-way” and once we were headed that-a-way, we saw some directional signs which confirmed the choice and allowed me to stop fretting about possibly going the wrong way!
We arrived at the bus station, checked ourselves in for the tour and waited for our bus to leave.
We had a nice guide on board and he gave us a great orientation and commentary as we made our way away from London. As we were leaving the city we passed the Natural History Museum, the Victoria and Albert museum and one of the oldest breweries in London – Fuller’s.
We enjoyed watching the countryside as we made our way to Stonehenge during the 2 1/2 hour ride.
It was amazing to realize how undeveloped the area around Stonehenge is. I found out that this is due to some well planned land purchases. The nearest village is 2 miles away. We pulled up to the tour bus parking area at the visitor’s center and, once our guide handed out the tickets, we had to get in line to take a shuttle to the actual site. Stonehenge is not even visible from the visitor’s center or the shuttle boarding area. There were already a ton of people there for the same reason as us -so that took a bit of waiting.
The shuttle took us about a mile or so to the drop-off area. We walked a short distance from there to the walkway that circles the henge.
Stonehenge is still being studied and excavated even now. This is a very, very old place. “Modern” Stonehenge is thought to have been begun around 3100 BC, but there are traces of activity around the site that have been dated as far back as 8000 BC. The original structures (whatever form they took) were made of wood, but around 2600 BC, the builders switched to using stone. Some of the stones may have been transported from a place 150 miles away. The larger ones are thought to have come from about 25 miles away.
There are many ideas and theories about who built Stonehenge and what it was used for. For thousands of years it was an important site for the culture who built it -being improved and/or redesigned over the years -until it eventually fell out of use. As there have been human remains found at the site and there are burial barrows in the area -several visible from the site – a leading theory is that it was used for burial rituals.
When looking into the history here, one of the things that caught my attention was how Stonehenge was regarded in more modern times. Between the 1500’s and the 1800’s it seems to have been part of a larger estate that changed hands several times over the years. In 1915 the site was actually auctioned off in a land auction by the last owners of the estate. It was purchased for the price of 6,600 pounds. At the time there was some development starting near the site -there was even a cafe. The new owner soon donated it to the country and a preservation effort was launched to buy up the land surrounding the site to protect it. The encroaching signs of civilization were removed.
Up until around 1977, visitors were able to walk among the stones. People even climbed on them. Now they are roped off and visitors can walk around it in a wide circle. As you can see -that’s what we did and a lot of pictures were taken every time there was a new angle. The most recent change to the area of the site was to close down and move some roads that were getting busier in these modern times and they were detracting from the setting. Where the shuttle bus drops off visitors near the site there used to be a large parking lot, which they have also removed -leaving just enough space for the shuttle to operate. They have managed to create an island of calm around the site, which I feel definitely contributes to its impact.
Time was of the essence, so we had to get back on the shuttle and find our tour bus to resume the tour. “Well,” I said to Gail, “that was a long way to go to look at a pile of rocks!”
Just kidding. I am so very glad I’ve seen Stonehenge in person after reading about it for so many years.
Our next stop was Salisbury Cathedral. The attraction for me at the cathedral is that it houses one of the best preserved copies of the original Magna Carta. Only four copies of the original Magna Carta, which was written in 1215, survive at all. The Magna Carta was written and re-written in the years following 1215 and some of those copies still exist in churches and museums -but I wanted to see the real deal.
We were only about 8 miles from Salisbury, so after a quick bus trip we began seeing the outskirts of Salisbury.
We were let off the bus next to an old gate in a wall. I found out later that it is called St. Ann’s Gate. It was built around the year 1331 and it was one of four original gates that provided entrance to what is called the “cathedral close”. Salisbury Cathedral was once walled (thus the need for the entrance gates). The “close” at Salisbury covered 80 acres.
We walked along a narrow street with buildings. We saw an interesting gated drive:
And we passed Bishop Wordsworth’s School. It had a plaque in the wall:
He wrote Lord Of The Flies. I can’t help but assume his students inspired him?
Sarum College houses a theological college.
We popped out of the little lane and got our first lovely view of the Cathedral. Salisbury Cathedral is known for having the tallest spire in Britain. It is also thought to be one of the cathedrals that provided inspiration for Ken Follett for his book Pillars of the Earth, which both Laura and I have read.
History time out: When telling the story of Salisbury Cathedral, we once again cross paths with William the Conqueror, but not right away. About three miles north of Salisbury are the remains of an old hilltop fortification which was known as Sarum. There is evidence of the area being occupied as far back as 3000 BC. In the years that followed, it continued to be used as a defensive position by the Romans, then the Saxons, then the Normans (William himself used Sarum as a base of operations). Sarum grew and it was only natural that a Cathedral was built there too. Around 1200, tensions arose between the bishop and the military garrison posted at Sarum. The bishop, not being happy with the big picture in Sarum, petitioned to move the cathedral to a more suitable location citing a lack of space for the clerics and an undependable source for water, among other things. Permission was granted around 1217.
The legend goes that the new site for the cathedral would be determined by the shot of an arrow from Sarum. How the arrow flew nearly 2 miles is explained by the story that the arrow hit a white stag and the stag ran until it died -and where it died is where the cathedral was built.
However it began, the town that grew up along with the cathedral was called New Sarum (and the old site was then called “old” Sarum). The cathedral was started in 1221 and finished in 1258. New Sarum was made a city by charter from King Henry III in 1227. While New Sarum was its official name, along the way it began to be commonly referred to as Salisbury. The name was officially changed in 2009.
Inside the cathedral we were given two small demonstrations before going off on our own. First, we were shown what it claimed to be the oldest working clock in the world. It was created in 1386. It does not have a dial, but is supposed to strike the hour. There is some small bit of controversy about whether or not it is truly the oldest -or even completely original- but it’s their story and we’ll just play along.
The other demonstration related to the foundation of the church. It was built on a gravel base and only has something like a 4 ft deep foundation due to a high water table in the area. According to the guide, the moisture of the gravel must be kept at a certain level or the cathedral foundation will not be stable. We were shown how the water level is checked through a stone in the floor.
Once we had seen these two things, we were free to explore. All three of us took many pictures – so I’m going to post a few and then add a slide show.
There were several interesting tombs in the cathedral from different centuries.
After we’d explored the main part of the cathedral, we went looking for the Magna Carta. It is housed in a small side chapel. You have to enter an enclosed tent-like structure in the middle of the room.
The first version of the Magna Carta was written in 1215 as a sort of a peace treaty/charter between King John and some Barons who were in rebellion. While it didn’t stop a civil war breaking out soon after it was signed, and the promises it made weren’t exactly kept to the letter, the ideas it held were essentially the makings of the first constitution in European history. There were several subsequent, modified, versions issued over the years by the kings in power -for better or worse. Yet the basic concepts of individual liberties and restraint of power it addressed evolved to became a standard of sorts upon which future laws were created. Our own founders looked to the Magna Carta for inspiration when writing the U.S. Constitution. For those interested in learning more: https://www.bl.uk/magna-carta/articles/magna-carta-an-introduction
I expected something elaborate -like an illustrated page perhaps. Instead it was a plain legal document, in Latin, written in the tiniest, neatest hand. It did not look 800+ years old at all. I was almost more impressed by the writing than the fact it was the Magna Carta -which we’ve all heard about in our history classes. No pictures were allowed, but this website shows a picture: http://www.medievista.it/2014/06/15/magna-charta/034-magna-carta-inspection
Here’s a slide show of more Cathedral pictures:
As we left the cathedral, we walked toward an area that looked like it might have some stores to look at. We passed this statue along the way.
We’d been on the run all day and were quite hungry. We only had a bit more time left before we were supposed to get back on the bus for the next stop on the tour. We left the church and tried to find something we could buy and take with us to eat on the bus -but had no luck! There were cafes nearby -but none selling “to go” food.
We walked back to the bus through St. Ann’s Gate and took a couple of pictures of the buildings along the street outside the gate.
Time to get back on the bus!
Our next, and last, stop was the city of Bath. Bath is the site of what is considered the only hot springs in Great Britain. While the springs had been used since pre-historic times, it was the Romans who more or less put Bath on the map. They built baths and a temple there around AD 60.
Like other places, the city grew and changed with the centuries. By the 1100’s a hospital had been built near the hot springs due to their healing properties. By the 1700’s it became popular to “take the waters” in Bath. A large economy began to grow around health tourism. There wasn’t much in the way of society or entertainment there until after Queen Anne herself visited in 1703. A man named Beau Nash, who was a gentleman’s son, but a bit of a ne’re-do-well envisioned turning Bath into a spa town like other places in Europe. He created entertainments and more or less became the unofficial Master of Ceremonies for the town. He was instrumental in making Bath a fashionable spa destination.
We were let off the bus in a small area of little restaurants and stores. We walked down the street a short way to the Bath Abbey (official name: The Abbey Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Bath…whew!)
There was a plaza of sorts with restaurants and stores.
The famous Pump Room & Baths were along one side of it.
You enter the Baths through an elaborate lobby.
The first part of the exhibition is the actual Roman pool….although no longer in it’s original form.
Next we went through the building looking at displays and eventually emerged at pool level. There are a lot of artifacts from the Roman times and parts of the building are “cut away” so that you can see some of the original stone floors or pools. The process of bathing in Roman times wasn’t as simple as jumping into a bathtub. It was more of a ritual with the bather moving room to room -each room having a different function as part of the bath.
Once again – we were running out of time. We were still hungry and now we were tired too! We had maybe 1/2 hour before we had to meet the bus. The guide said that the bus ride back to London was going to take 3-4 hours, give or take. We looked at the time and realized that we might not get back to the hotel until 8 or 9 PM. I had done some research and checked into the trains between Bath and London. If we could catch the right one -we’d be back in London in 1.5 hours, plus the Tube ride to the hotel. We all agreed that taking the train would be the best plan at this point.
We alerted the guide that we wouldn’t be getting back on the bus and went to see if we could find the train station. I knew the trains left on the 1/2 hour -and we were less than 15 minutes away from the next train. The fastest thing we could grab to eat was ice-cream …which we ate while walking to the station. Fortunately we set off in the right direction and with the kindness of strangers stayed in the right direction. We made it onto the train with literally seconds to spare. Whew!
Along the way on the train the conductor mentioned we’d be able to spot some of the famous Wiltshire Horses -so we kept an eye out.
Evidently carving horse shapes into the chalky hills is a “thing” around Wiltshire. Today there are 8 of them still visible around the area. Most of the horses were carved in the area between 1778 and 1999. The original horse may have been carved onto the side of a hill fortification as far back as 878, but that one was “re-done” by an overzealous type in the late 1700’s (much to the dismay of many fans of antiquity). I am not positive, but I believe this is the same horse – known as the Westbury White Horse.
After a very long day, we finally got back to the hotel where Elton was waiting for us in the lobby and went out to find a long awaited dinner! As we compared notes on our days, Elton showed us a picture he’d taken in a little restaurant he’d gone to for lunch.