A Travellerspoint blog

21: New Age Druids

sunny 18 °C
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I got happening early this morning as I was heading back towards London (Oxford today) to get going up to the Shetlands. My detour break today was to see the Avebury Standing Stones. The Avebury henge is much larger than Stonehenge and takes up at least square mile of the town of Avebury. Actually, the stones are set in a few sheep fields that surround the town in a wide arc.

The Avebury stones are thought to be the same age as Stonehenge (5000 or so years old). Apart from this fact and that they are stones and stand in a circle there isn’t much else that the two henge’s have in common. For one; Avebury is much less travelled than Stonehenge (today there would have been lucky to be 30 people looking at the stones). Two; the henge itself is much, much larger. Three; Avebury is just standing stones (vertical), there are no horizontal stones placed on top. Four; tourists can actually go up and touch the Avebury stones (no fences to keep away the dodgies!!)

I actually learnt a lot more about henges today because at Avebury you can actually join a historical tour and see the stones from a historian’s point of view. The good thing about talking to a person and not to a headset is you can ask questions to all of those burning questions!! Probably one of the most interesting things I learnt today about both henges, is that a ‘henge’ is actually the ditch that surrounds the stones, not the stones themselves! Based on this, Stonehenge isn’t really a henge at all!!! I was also surprised to discover that both Stonehenge and the Avebury stones have been concreted in the ground to prevent them falling over (I guess with all of the tourists walking past every day it would be pretty bad press if someone died because a stone fell on them!)

It was also the autumnal equinox today so Avebury also played host to some new age druids who were doing whatever it is that druids do at an equinox.. It appeared to be lots of dancing and singing around a big gong wearing lots of flowing clothing and no shoes.. I was a little preoccupied with the stone’s themselves to go and find out what they were doing but apparently it is quite common to see people gathered within the henge to celebrate at different times of the year. The Avebury stones don’t appear to align with any of the solstices or equinoxes but this doesn’t stop people from gathering.. I guess it is easier to get closer to the stones here so this is why they come here rather than Stonehenge?

I also learnt a bit about water dousing today! To be perfectly frank it is one of those ‘branches of science’ that I’ve always been pretty dubious about so the guide challenged me to learn how to douse.. I’m still sceptical but the rods did seem to move when we got near to a water course so maybe……………… Anyway the point of dousing is that apparently the type of stone that Avebury is made out of holds water so the archaeologists use dousing sticks (amongst other techniques) to see where underground other stones from the henge could be laid. The reason for this is that many of the Avebury stones remain buried under the ground (at some point in the past they toppled over and the grass etc has grown over them).

All in all I had a top couple of hours wandering around paddocks looking at big rocks…. Mmmm maybe I do need to get my head read one of these days!! From Avebury I continued along the motorway and into Oxford. Gosh driving in Oxford is a challenge.. not from a physical driving perspective but just because traffic is so bad that the car only moves 1 meter every 10mins or so! I actually gave up trying to drive to my hostel and parked outside of town at a park and ride and then walked the km or so into town to my hostel.. I’m certain that I walked to the hostel far quicker than I would have driven the same distance.. traffic here is just manic!

I had arrived well after 5pm and had organised to meet with Carmen and Pete (from the Trans Siberian trip) at 7pm for dinner so I knew that I didn’t have much time for site seeing. I did a quick tour of main street and some of the other streets that the lady from the hostel had recommended before it was time to meet Carmen and Pete for dinner.

We had a really great night! Carmen and Pete took me on a quick tour of some of the better looking buildings in town and explained to me that the campus of Oxford is not actually in one place but is spread throughout the city.. The whole town is the university! Most of the 'pretty' buildings are campus buildings and most were built sometime between the 16th and the 17th centuries. I think the highlights were probably St Mary Magdalene church and this building that has stone heads erected on the wall. If I have time tomorrow morning I’m going to make an effort to see Christchurch which is where some of Harry Potter was filmed! After our tour we settled in for some pretty tasty Indian and before we knew it we had talked away the evening and were heading back to the hostel (and home for P and C). I really had a great night out with some great friends. Thanks Pete and Carmen for an awesome evening, I’ll definitely reciprocate when you are next in Brissie!

Posted by weary_feet 01:53 Archived in England Comments (0)

20: Bubbles

semi-overcast 18 °C
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Early start today as I wanted to see the Roman Baths before having my hair cut and then my plan was to head to the spa for a relaxing afternoon.. Well sometimes my best laid plans just don’t come off….

So I got going pretty early (although I did have a wait for the bathroom..) before getting down town with my first stop being the post office to send home some accumulated junk. I swear I’ve spent hours of this trip in various post offices… every post office (whether I’ve spoken the language or not) is not a ten minute journey.. In this case I was in the post office for almost an hour!!! There was one lady serving and the post offices here in the uk don’t have a queue they just have a ‘take a number’ system. So when I looked inside it didn’t look too busy…… you then know the drill, ‘do I just leave or do I wait’ type thoughts continue to run through your mind.. you then decide you’ve already waited for 20 mins and how much longer can it be etc…  I can laugh about it now but at the time I was pretty annoyed let me tell you!

Finally got my parcel away and got myself to the Roman Baths.. by now it is just under an hour til my hair dressing appointment and the lady on the front desk is telling me the Bath’s will take at least an hour and a half… Aaahh.. So I do the right thing, ditched the Roman Baths for after my apptn and went and found myself a coffee shop to while away the hour…

To cut a long story short; I missed out on my relaxing spa session in the afternoon!! By the time my hair apptn was over it was now 2pm and time to see the Baths. The Bath’s themselves are pretty impressive. They were built by the Roman’s around 40 AD and encompass at least a few city blocks. The Roman’s tapped into the natural hot spring and dedicated the complex to Silius Minerva the water goddess. Inside there is one large bath (the King’s bath) which is probably just a bit smaller than a 25m pool and many smaller bathing chambers (tepidariums, frigidariums etc). The complex is one big museum with half of it dedicated to how the Roman’s lived and the other half actually walking amongst the ruins to see the Baths.

The archaeologists think that Bath (which was called Aquae Silius by the Romans) was one of the main Roman hubs in Britain and possibly in Western Europe. Right next to the Bath complex was a temple dedicated to the water goddess which actually housed the holy spring (the actual spring that feeds the bath complex). Inside the spring, archaeologists have uncovered many different prayers that were written onto finely beaten metal sheets. Most of the prayers are to avenge some wrong or to request the help of the goddess with personal issues.

I think the thing I find most amazing about the Roman Baths is the fact that the plumbing for the main King’s Bath is still operational! The hot water still flows out of the holy spring and through underground aqueducts into the King’s Bath. From here the excess water (so that the bath doesn’t overflow) is siphoned off and flows out into the river. The archaeologists are still digging under the city centre looking for more parts of the baths, I can only imagine that next time I visit they will have discovered another whole section to the bath complex!

By the time I had wandered right through the complex it was well after 5pm and I was ready for some dinner so I decided to forgo my spa experience and go back to the hostel for some dinner and a sleep. I’ll just have to add the spa experience to my ever growing list of ‘next time’ list!

Posted by weary_feet 11:01 Archived in England Comments (0)

19: Bath Stone

semi-overcast 17 °C
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Very leisurely start today. I took quite a while to walk down to the town this morning mainly because I was continually stopping to check out the buildings! I spent my whole morning just wandering the streets of Bath and checking out the sites. I stopped in at the Abbey just before 11am to discover that the morning church service was about to start. I was quite surprised the Bath Abbey allows visitors to continue to wander around the Abbey whilst the service is in operation!! I personally found this quite rude so sat down in a pew to observe the service… some people seem to have no sense of propriety though; one particular lady decided to walk almost up to the priest (whilst he is in the middle of the service) and started taking photos of the roof of the church as well as him!!! I mean surely there should be a line somewhere?

Anyway, once I had sat through the service I then took a tour of the rest of the Abbey (the parts that weren’t really visible from sitting in the pew) before heading back out to have a bite to eat. Following lunch, I joined a historical tour of Bath (conducted by volunteers from the local council). It was really worthwhile as our tour guide took us all over the city pointing out points of interest. Bath has been occupied since well before Roman times and is world famous for its almost intact Roman bath complex. The complex was likely built around 40 AD and covers more than a good city block! Ever since the Roman’s tapped into the natural hot springs, Bath locals have been swimming in the healing waters. Today the only way to get a taste of this thermal pools is to pay and enter a commercially run spa complex completed early this century (plan for tomorrow I do believe!) Apparently up until the mid 80s Bath locals (and visitors) could swim in the hot springs by just using the local pool! Not so today!!

After the Roman’s left Bath it was very much a sleepy town, on the main route from London to Bristol, until Queen Anne reinvigorated the town by coming to Bath a couple of times a year to aid her pain relief for her gout. So began the boom (and the layout) of the current town of Bath. The Bath we see today is considered Georgian (18th Century) and is almost entirely built of Bath Stone (which I think is a softer version of sand stone). This means the town of Bath is pretty nice to look at.. all of the buildings are old sand stone like buildings that have been quite particularly built to exacting standards. What I mean by this is that every building is proportionally correct (compared to its neighbours) so that when you look down a street all of the windows are even, they are all placed in the same place as compared to the front door etc.. Very symmetrical looking with very clean lines.

Our walk around the town took many of the key sites of this architectural marvel, including the circus (row of houses completely built around a large round-about and built into a circle shape!) and the royal crescent (another row of terrace houses built in a crescent shape around a large piece of parkland). Bath is also the setting for a couple of Jane Austin’s novels so our guide pointed out the sites that she used as settings for her characters (I hadn’t read the particular novels that were set in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion, so it was largely lost on me). On our return leg to the Roman Baths we also took a look at the Pulteney Bridge in Bath. It is a bridge that has been built upon so as you look across the bridge it actually looks like you are looking down a street (similar to the Rialto in Venice)!

We finished up our tour back at the Abbey and the Roman Baths. I spent the remainder of my evening wandering the streets hunting a hair dresser who would book me in for tomorrow for a cut and colour before heading back up the mile long hill (Christ the Bathwick Hill is long and pretty steep!!) to the hostel for a nice cuppa and some dinner.

Posted by weary_feet 10:51 Archived in England Comments (0)

18: New Age Hippies!

rain 16 °C
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I got myself up and going early again today (no real reason to hang around when there isn’t anyone to talk to!!!). I’m off to Bath today with a side stop in at Glastonbury.

Arrived in Glastonbury just before lunch time to a very overcast sky and the occasional downpour! Good old English weather!! I started my trip around Glastonbury by climbing up the Glastonbury Tor. The Tor is this pretty high naturally occurring hill that dominates the Glastonbury skyline that is topped by a ruined church spire. The Tor used to have an abbey built on its peak, today only the spire is still visible above the green grass.

To see the ruin up close you naturally have to walk up the whole hill.. I’ve got to say that it seems that all ruined castles/ abbey’s seem to be on top of really high hills.. Gosh the old calves and bum are starting to feel it!!!! After checking out the view and saying g’day the local lawn mowers (more commonly known as sheep) I walked back down the hill and into town to see the very famous Glastonbury Abbey.

The Abbey has been ruined since the reformation in the mid 1500s and was once a part of a very large St Benedictine Monastery. Much of the monastery has since succumbed to the weather but the main abbey is still partly visible and is surrounded by beautifully green lawns. I enjoyed a 20min talk about life as a Benedictine monk, apparently the monks were woken at 2am every day to start their day. The day started with prayers, and in total a monk would have prayed 7 times a day! That’s a lot of conversations with the all mighty! Each monk was only given 1 meal per day, which consisted of fish, vegetables and bread. To supplement their diet the monks decreed that beavers were also a type of fish, and since the middle ages beavers have been extinct from the British Isles largely due to the monk’s diet!!!!

Glastonbury is most famous for two graves that were exhumed in the early 12th century. The two graves were thought to contain Arthur and his queen Guinevere and were re-interred under the high alter in the main abbey. These graves were desecrated during the reformation, meaning that the whereabouts of the skeletons was lost hundreds of years ago.

After getting thoroughly wet, I left Glastonbury to have some lunch in town at this very bohemian café. (I neglected to mention that Glastonbury is a melting port of all types of New Age hippies! I saw everything from people dressed in wizard’s robes through to one woman wearing basically nothing!) This café sold Fish Finger sandwiches!!!! Well that was decided, my lunch was a fish finger sandwich and a chocolate milkshake!! How awesome that you can buy something like a fish finger sandwich in a café?? Only in Glastonbury!

Finally hopped back in my car and continued my journey into Bath. Arrived after 5pm so spent my evening doing my laundry and reading my book before heading to bed. Off to discover Bath tomorrow!!

Posted by weary_feet 10:28 Archived in England Comments (0)

17: Mordred

semi-overcast 16 °C
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Another early start today as I was driving all the way up the Cornish coastline to Westward Ho which is right up the top of the peninsular near to Exeter Moor. I had decided to do a pit stop today at Tintagel. Tintagel is the home of many of the Arthurian legends and is supposedly the home of Camelot and the infamous round table.

Today the castle is a 12th century ruin. The castle that was built in the 12th century was built on top of an older settlement dating to about the 6th century. It is unknown whether this is the home of King Arthur but it is likely that some sort of Cornish king did have his base out on the small island of Din-tagel (where the older ruins have been found).

The ruin that is today’s Tintagel castle was built in the 12th century by Richard Duke of Cornwall. He was the brother of one of the kings and it is thought that he may have built his castle on top of the ruins to get some sort of prestige from the Arthurian legends as there is no other reason to build your base in Tintagel (there is no river or port- so nothing to defend!) The ruined castle is built out on this small peninsular that is connected to the mainland by a very narrow stair case (and it wouldn’t have been much wider in the middle ages). The coastline around the castle is really spectacular. Today the wind was blowing fairly hard and the morning was very misty but the sun did come out right before I left the castle. The changes in the weather left for some fairly rough seas which meant nice big waves splashing up over the rocks!

To get to the castle you have a monster of a walk down a very steep hill (which means a very steep home journey) and then once you arrive at the visitor centre you have to walk up these very steep stair cases in order to get to the top of the island.. Certainly not for the faint hearted or anyone slightly unfit! The view from the top of the ruined castle was just magic! I even saw some seals floating in the little bay next to the castle!! Of course King Arthur’s castle wouldn’t be complete without Merlin’s cave and what do you know there are multiple caves around the peninsular!!

After a very exhausting trek back to the small town of Tintagel I settled down to some very tasty potato and leek soup before continuing my journey to Westward Ho. I arrived at the town at just after 5pm, which meant no real time for site seeing (although I had never planned to site see in this town… it was always just a break in the drive to Bath). Did some shopping and cooked myself dinner before turning in for an early night. (Again there are only 3 of us in this hostel--- which is a really nicely outfitted house… 5 star kitchen--- so no real conversation.. My only excitement for the evening was watching a documentary on “travellers” in England—Irish Gypsies—I did not know that the UK had its own version of Gypsies.. unrelated to the ones in Romania.. basically they travel around the UK in caravans.. there is currently an issue here in that they have the right to park their caravans in many parts of the UK for free, but the issue is that there isn’t enough places for them to park so they are illegally parking, not keeping the areas tidy etc. etc.. interesting issue, I think I’ll need to do some more research……..)

Posted by weary_feet 12:14 Archived in England Comments (0)

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