Tuesday, October 4, 2011

New Friends - Circling Avebury - Sleeping Over a Pub

Forge House - Southwick, England

Thoughts this morning? A few. First, love the signage around here. Not the street signs, which as I have mentioned exist only in some village planner's imagination. It's the directional signs that are so well done and far superior to anything we have back home. In almost all instances you can go from totally lost to back in navigational control simply by finding a roundabout or taking an exit off a motorway. For example the one to the left was on an auxiliary road. Answers all your questions. Great graphics as well.
Second, the accommodations here are wonderful. The setting is tranquil, our en-suite bedroom very tastefully decorated, and the shower made us a tad envious. The little bronze statuette on the side table is is a fine touch and certainly mood provoking. Click here if over 18. Third, we certainly don't feel like leaving anytime soon and even though we have a grey day for a change it upsets us not at all.

Around 8:30 we descended to the kitchen and were greeted by Lance and Sharon, preparing breakfast, the adjacent dining room table set for four. While having our meal made for us (what a luxurious treat), we were joined by Graham and Jen.
It seems that on every trip we run into a really nice couple with a great sense of humor, a grand outlook on life, and easy conversationalists. In this case we had double the fun. We love listening to and kidding around with the Brits as our shared heritage can always be relied upon for a few laughs. L&S opened their house for guests just four months previous, and G&J have been totally retired for a few years and much like us, are enjoying their time and freedom. They had also gone into B/Avon last night and eaten alone (at the Swan I think) sorry that we had not made acquaintance earlier in the day. As Graham put it, "we could have had a genuine chin-wag." Normally breakfast is a half hour affair, but on this day it was a social occasion and we all reluctantly agreed to end it as the clock was chiming 11. Sharing email addresses, agreeing to write when we felt like it, we bid a fond farewell and headed off on our next adventure.

Avebury - one of two neolithic stone circles erected long, long ago in the beautiful Wiltshire area of England. Everyone goes to Stonehenge, except us. We had each been in previous lives, and I had seen "Sparky" Griswold knock it down in European Vacation. Since then the National Trust has obviously resurrected it and even put a metal fence around it to preclude further accidents, and keep the Americans from touching it. So, we decided to go to Avebury, which in the past had it's own Griswold experience back in the 14th century. It was built in 2600 BC, predating Stonehenge by 600 years. The townfolk built their village right in the middle of the circle, and, I'm guessing, because it spoiled the view, knocked a good bit of it down and buried what they could. Some of the stones were burned (don't ask me how you burn a stone, but the story is that they heated them up, quenched them, and broke them into pieces. I guess if you set your mind to something ...) and used the baby stones for building some of the houses in the village.

In the 18th century some enterprising folks dug them up (by that I'm guessing they mean removed the soil from around them as some are huge and could hardly been hidden that well), decided to make a tourist attraction of it, and now you can drive right through the middle if you desire. The main road is the old ritual procession way (Rt. B-4003). We followed the signs to the National Trust parking lot, where for 5 quid we could park all day if we wished. We love the National Trust. They are so easy to deal with. Noting that there were no metal fences around the stones I asked about their rules (thinking back to Glastonbury Tor) and was told: "You can kiss them, lick them, or kick them if you want." Love that.

Fabulous stop. It is large and peaceful and requires a little stamina to make your way around the whole circle. And what you see besides the beautiful views of a beautiful countryside is stones. They are large and small, some mere fragments, some just markers of where the stones had been and it takes imagination to form a mental image of what it must have been like back in the day. There are no lintels at the Avebury site, unlike Stonehenge. Also, you have to wonder how it was built. No big Caterpillar earth moving equipment back then. Half way around you can make a stop in the village if desired.
The other remarkable bit is that as you circumnavigate the path to the vertical top of the circle (about 30 feet high) you get a sense for the proportion of it, and the moat like ditch which surrounds the circle (about 30 feet deep). We wondered where the vortex was and tried to be sensitive to any extra-ordinary sensations. Alas, we felt none. On this day there were thatch repairs underway on one of the buildings. Talk about labor intensive. I was surprised to find how thickly the reeds were applied. No wonder the roofs last so long.

In the little village was a dovecote. We have read all the Elizabeth George novels (they are set in the UK) and she mentions them a lot. What a neat building, but we wondered why go to all the expense and bother to build a big bird house. (Ed. Note: According to Wiki: Pigeons and doves were an important food source historically in Western Europe and were kept for their eggs, flesh, and dung. In the US we treat pigeons like seagulls. Flying rats. That answers that question.) We noted that you may be able to park at a local village shop but upon reflection were glad we paid our 5 pounds at the lot. Our buds at the National Trust will maked good use of it. We didn't spend a lot of time there, but you don't have to in order to appreciate it. We recovered our car, left natures wonderland behind, did a drive-by of Stonehenge, and headed for one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world: Salisbury.

The city of Salisbury has been around a long time (since about 1220 - to me that is a long time), is riddled with rivers (5 of them) and sits astride the Avon. (Hmmm ... wonder who decides whether on not to add the -on-Avon suffix. Just a thought.) It's a pretty city even without the cathedral and if you have to pick just one between Wells and Salisbury, our vote would be for the latter.
As to the cathedral, this 13th century masterpiece is not only breathtaking in it's beauty it also has some other notable items of interest; Britain's tallest spire, one of only four surviving Magna Cartas, peaceful cloisters, and Europe's oldest working clock. All in one place and only 11 pounds for entry, and you can take your own photos without extra charge. It is a bargain. There are the requisite tombed bishops and an amazing choir. Even if you are tired of touring churches the visit to the Chapter House (where the Magna Carta is housed) is worth the price of admission. Don't forget to look up and see the beautiful fluted column that seems to spill stained glass windows down it's sides.

The Magna Carta in it's protected case was a bit difficult for us to read as it's written in Latin and both Kat and I took French in school. The translation points out that this was THE first document ever forced upon a king that would limit his powers (King John at Runnymede in 1215 - read about it if interested). It is the basis for many constitutions throughout the world, including ours in the United States. Our founders, however added one more basic right, one we have certainly bought into, the right to pursue happiness, which we are doing with a passion.

Winchfield Inn - Hook, England

Right now the pursuit of happiness includes sitting in the Winchfield Inn garden with a good cigar, a very good beer (Sharps - Doom Bar - Rock Corwall), and an even better wife, my favorite person in the world. This 17th century inn is a pub as well, and staying at this type of accommodation is a new experience for us. We went to the bar upon entering, registered with the barkeep and was given a room key and directions up the back stairs to our cozy little room. Nothing fancy but certainly sufficient for our needs, exactly the type of place we were looking for. We are about 50 miles from London, and this inn is often used by on-travel commuters with business in the city. The train station is a short distance away.

It felt a little funny leaving our room, and walking down to the pub, as if it was a family affair, unlike a hotel. It was nice, cozy like our room and without that institutional feeling you sometimes get even in the better restaurants. Aged dark honey colored wood with a nice patina as the experts would say, enveloped us. The menu is quite good, more extensive than what we now know is called typical pub grub fare. I had the fish and chips without the mushy peas. Like I used to tell my mom, I tried them. It was quiet and we felt quite relaxed ... maybe there was something in that Avebury vortex thing that was having a latent effect. Or maybe it was the beer.

Just a note: I know I carry on about the pictures and paying for the right to take them sometimes. I enjoy taking them for a very simple reason - when I look at them later on I am immediately transported back to the moment I clicked the shutter. There is some connection in my brain between the physical act and the emotional feeling of the moment. They are meant to be clicked on. I love the detail these modern little digital cameras capture. Either I or Kathleen took all the pictures on this blog with a few exceptions and hopefully I have noted them as I went along. On this page the column in the chapter house at Salisbury Cathedral with the stained glass windows came from Pininterest ... it was a dreary day, and the light just wouldn't cooperate. So thanks to the anonymous donor for that great picture.

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