United Kingdom, Week 4
Tuesday 16 - Wednesday 17 October 2007
We had a quiet day on Tuesday, catching up with washing and domestic stuff. Later in the afternoon Rose discovered a leak in the ceiling of the laundry which was later identified as being due to a hole in the roof. Considering the houses here were only built in 2000, it's not a good advertisement for the workmanship.
Both Marcus and Sam went to preschool today and Karel is away doing a tri-service familiarisation thingy with the RAF. The three of us took the opportunity to drive up to Stow-on-the-Wold, a village in Cotswolds. The Cotswolds are a real tourist mecca, with a multitude of stone houses and shops, some thatched, and rife with B & Bs, tea-rooms and antique stores. Worth the visit though, and we had the time to have a bit of a walk around and enjoyed lunch.
[Below - houses and stocks at Stow-on-the-Wold (note the moss on the roof!)]
[Above - Shop with skewed roof, Stow-on-the-Wold]
Rose had the vegetable soup while Margaret and I had an upmarket ploughman's lunch, mine with Brie, hers with cheddar cheese, both with salad and fresh rolls. Mmmmm.
At 2:30 we had afternoon tea with Unity and Hugh, Karel's civilian sponsors. They're a nice couple, both in their mid-seventies, retired for some time and with Hugh's background in the military and as a Defence civilian, they've been civilian sponsors for overseas students at Shrivenham for some time now.
Their home is in a little village about ten or 12 minutes from Watchfield, and is beautifully presented both inside and out. I think that they're both keen gardeners, and obviously take a great deal of pride in their home.
We returned a little before 4:30, just in time to pick up Marcus and Sam, then dove headfirst into the tag end of the day when little children turn into tired little monsters!
I've booked a car to be picked up tomorrow and we'll probably go to Avebury (where there's a stone circle) and then Winchester. We're coming back to Stonehenge on Sunday and will meet Rose and Karel there.
The car is booked through to the 23rd, which is Tuesday and we'll have another couple of quiet days before flying out from Heathrow at 12:00pm on the 26th.
[Left - Margaret and Rose ham it up at Stow-on-the-Wold]
Thursday 18 October 2007
Sam was being taken to a play-group thingy in Swindon, and Rose dropped us off at the car-hire place about an hour ahead of when I had expected to be there, so we got an early start.
First stop was Avebury, as we're going to meet Karel and Rose at Stonehenge on Sunday, and I thought that seeing Avebury first would give Margaret a better perspective on the sites.
Apparently there were three lots of major construction at Avebury, commencing in 2800 BCE, then 2600 BCE and finally 2400 BCE (that's Before Common Era or BC for the unenlightened). Of the original 98 sarsen standing stones, some weighing over 40 tons, only 27 remain. Most of the others were destroyed as pagan relics or broken up for building material. The ditch was 21m wide and 11m deep, the fill being used to construct a bank. The site is 420m across and encloses 28 and a half acres.
[Above - Sarsen stone at Avebury]
As you can see, Avebury village itself encroaches well into the area enclosed by the stones, ditch and bank. Margaret's picture will give you an idea of the scale of some of the stones.
Avebury is the centre of an area of historical interest which includes a number of barrows (burial mounds), one of which is West Kennett Long Barrow, Silbury Hill (a man-made chalk hill) and Windmill Hill, about which I know nothing.
Stonehenge is only one quarter of the size of Avebury, but all the more impressive because most of the stones are still intact and many are still in place.
The only drawback was that the black-faced Suffolks were, as Margaret said, "prolific", making walking through the fresh manure a bit like a minefield.
From Avebury we drove through Devizes and south of Andover to Winchester. As a side interest, we did a quick by-trip to Worthy Down where I served in 1989.
It's not changed a lot on the surface, although I think that the Pay Corps is now a part of the Adjutant-General Corps if the signs are to be believed and the down the road which used to be the home of the Light Infantry now appears to be occupied by something called the Training Corps.
Going into Winchester we parked the car and arranged accommodation, had some lunch and went for a stroll through Winchester. Much of it was recognisable, including many of the pubs, but orientation continued to be a problem.
There are a lot more one-way streets than I recall, and a much more extensive area committed to pedestrian malls. More traffic and more people too.
King Aelfred's statue remains a constant, as do Winchester Cathedral and the city walls. It remains a beautiful city, and I'd be happy to live here!
[Right - Statue of King Aelfred
We arrived on the day when Winchester University commences its graduation ceremonies, which appear to go over two days. Good timing!
As a result a number of facilities are closed, including Winchester Cathedral and the great Hall, the only surviving remnant of the 11th century Winchester Castle, spared from destruction by Oliver Cromwell, where a replica round table sits - a 700 year old fake - amid some wonderful stained glass windows.
We were able to look around outside though and walk all around the Cathedral which is a most impressive building, and in a good state of repair in comparison with many others that we've seen on this trip.
Going further up the hill we passed the City Cross and the Westgate which was erected in the 15th century. To the left of these are the city offices, the Great Hall and the remnants of a Roman wall, the foundations of which are more than three metres across.
Winchester was once the capital of Wessex, effectively the capital of England, and it was from here that William the Conqueror claimed the throne of England. It remained significant until the 12th century when a fire gutted the most of the city and London became the capital.
[Left - Winchester Cathedral]
We overnighted at a B 7 B in Itchen Abbas, past Kings Worthy on the Worthy Road and had dinner at a pub called the Chestnut Horse, a mile or so down the road.
Margaret had apple and cinnamon soup, followed by fish and chips, a pretty eclectic pair of choices I thought, while I had Thai fish cake as an entree, followed by poached salmon.
Having had a taste of Ferret lager a few nights ago, we indulged in the Badger lager this time! Not bad, but really wouldn't swap a pint of either for a pint of Stella Artois here.
Unfortunately we received a call during the day that Dumpling had been bitten by a tick, was at the vets in Marouya but was very ill. She's had some problems with her heart and is not physically very strong, so it was quite disturbing news.
We know that Andy and Audrey are looking after her as if she were their own dog and making the necessary decisions on that basis, so we have every confidence that she's as well looked after as she can be, but at the moment there's nothing more that can be done.
Friday 19 October 2007
We received word this morning that Dumpling didn't respond to treatment and passed away during the night. We hope that Audrey and Andy don't blame themselves. It could just as well have happened while she was in our care. We're both very upset. Dumpling was the gentlest of souls and was wonderful with children. We'll miss her terribly.
She'll be put to rest in the corner of the garden at Tuross with Olga and Mitzi where she will be in good company.
[Above - Photograph of Dumpling taken
in August 2007]
[Right - Light through trees near Itchen Abbas, Hampshire]
Leaving our B & B we wove our way across the south of England to Canterbury. The major roads are pretty well signposted, but I was trying to avoid the motorways and stick to secondary roads as you get to see more.
Following our usual practice we organised our accommodation as the first priority and having done this, we went to have a look at Canterbury Cathedral.
Margaret thinks that it provides a useful measure against which to judge how the ruined cathedrals/abbeys at Fountains, Glastonbury and so on, would have looked. The stained glass was fantastic and to me, the piece de resistance of this Cathedral. You can see what I mean below.
I was intrigued too, with the regimental and sovereigns' colours of the Buffs which were laid up in their chapel within the cathedral. Some of them had shredded into tatters, they were so thick with dust that many could not even be identified and quite literally falling to pieces. I've taken part in laying up of colours ceremonies, but because our Australian history is so short, I've never seen what happens to them after a couple of hundred years!
[Left - Regimental colours of the Buffs, laid up over the years]
Canterbury also has a lot of medieval remnant - walls, gates and so on. They actually incorporate a lot of Roman building material, so it's quite something to look at at the various layers of material.
With the death of Thomas Beckitt in 1170 the hand of the King Henry II's supporters and his subsequent rapid canonisation and sanctification, Canterbury became a shrine where religious penitents such as those described by Chaucer visited to atone for their sins.
The sins which Chaucer characters enumerate aren't much different to the the sins which are common today, but I guess that we don't see them as being something for which we need to atone!
The cathedral is an imposing Early Gothic building which is full of reminders of England's history of war and conquest with monuments to many of the nation's generals and military leaders.
[Left - View of Canterbury Cathedral]
That said, the weather and perhaps the increasing toxicity of the environment have not been kind to the carvings on the outside of the building. There is an on-going program of refurbishment which is projected to cost £50m!
We had dinner at an Indian restaurant in the city with a bottle of the Italian pinot grigio which we're quite taken with.
[Below - gardens surrounding the Round Tower at Windsor]
Saturday 20 October 2007
This morning we drove from Canterbury to Windsor, mostly via the M25, the freeway which is effectively a ring-road around London. Even at this time of the week the traffic was quite heavy and from time to time slowed to a halt.
The stonework at Windsor is in good condition, as you would expect when there have been a number of regular maintenance programs, the last in 2002 I think. We were pleasantly surprised by the gardens which cover the steep banks leading up to the Round Tower.
It's very oriented towards tourism, and they take every possible opportunity to separate the tourist from their money. There are at least four separate shops, even one which is an inherent part of the exit from St George's Chapel.
We walked through the Chapel which is very impressive and includes the coats of arms of all of the members of the Order of the Garter.
There are a number of formal guard posts manned by members of the Guards Regiments and upwards of 200 people in Windsor Castle at any one time.
Even though the castle (including all the buildings within the complex) covers 26 acres, Margaret thought that it was much smaller than she had imagined.
The castle was established by William the Conqueror and has been changed and updated a number of times since then.
We didn't do a tour inside the State or semi-State apartments, but even the view from outside which reveals some of the curtains and light fittings give a good idea of the opulence of the decoration.
The older I get, the less I understand why an accident of birth enables some to live in this style with immense power and even more immense waste, while others live from day to day. It doesn't make any sense at all.
We were going to stay overnight at Oxford but were confuddled by the huge number of people, the one-way streets, lack of parking and poor signage. It didn't take very long for us to kick that idea into touch and go on down the road to Abingdon.
[Above - Guard at Windsor Castle]
We found accommodation in the Cross Keys Pub. Basic, but pretty reasonable. On the publican's recommendation we went down the road to the White Horse and had dinner, a pint of Stella Artois and a half of Guiness respectively, and a couple of glasses of pino grigio - of course! Margaret had scampi and chips and I had a surf and turf which consisted of an 8 oz medium rare steak topped by scampi.
Our accommodation was reasonably noisy, given that this was the night of the Rugby Union final. We were happy to see the try disallowed, although as it happened it would have made no difference to to the final result anyway. We have always said that South Africa are a physically tough team and hard to beat at any time.
Sunday 21 October 2007
We left relatively early in the morning to meet Rose and Karel at Stonehenge, or, as Marcus calls it,"Rockland"! He wore his dinosaur jumper (courtesy of grandma Robyn) in order to stick with the prehistoric theme.
The standing stones at Stonehenge date from about 2,200 BCE but the circular ditch and bank have been dated at about 3,100 BCE.
They're an iconic spectacle and well-known, but none the less spectacular for all of that. There are as many theories concerning the purpose for the arrangement of the stones are there are theorists. For better or worse, it is increasingly linked with pagans and druidists.
Unfortunately for the latter, I believe that the society of which the Druids were a part didn't really get under way until after 300 BCE.
The other main theories concern whether it was a religious or secular/scientific calendar and these theories would seem to have a stronger basis in fact.
It was a beautiful day, although a little brisk, and we walked all around, took a bunch of photographs and enjoyed the whole experience, despite the Japanese tourists!
[Left - Karel and Marcus at Stonehenge]
Marcus and Sam were in a really good mood, so Rose and Karel decided that they would visit Avebury in the afternoon.
After leaving Stonehenge we drove towards Cornwall, heading, eventually, to Lands' End via Exeter on the A30.
We got as far as Okehampton, on the northern edge of Dartmoor, before hunger and fatigue set in. turning off the A30 we arranged accommodation at Fountains Inn, a pub in the main street. It dates from the 16th century and a couple of young men have recently taken up the licence. One works the bar, the other is the chef.
Before dinner we went for a walk and were delighted to find that there's a ruined castle not too far up the road which follows the Okement river. As it passes through the town it is contained within strong and very old stone walls on each bank.
By this time it was getting quite late in the day, so the pictures are quite dramatic in their contrast.
The castle was more a hunting lodge than a defensive construction, which is probably just as well, as it is over-looked on two sides by higher hills. Whoever sited it obviously failed Castle Building 101 by not dominating the high ground!
We had to jump the fence to get a closer look, and then we returned via the Lover's Lane which crossed the river.
The river itself ran right outside our room, and we were worried that it might keep us awake, or worse, have us running too and fro all night. Actually none of this happened and the sound was quite soothing.
[Left - Ruins of Okehampton Castle. Below - Cornish countryside]
Both our evening meals and breakfast were pretty good too, probably the best of the pub food that we've run across so far. If they keep up that standard, they'll certainly make a go of it.
Monday 22 October 2007
Rejoining the A30 we continued down towards Penzance, turning off for Land's End.
The day was cold and cloudy, but not too bleak for all of that. You can imagine that it would be pretty cold and inhospitable at Land's End in the winter though.
We took the opportunity to walk right down to the cliff's edge, so we were as far west as you can go and still be in England.
[Above, left and right - Cliffs at Land's End, Cornwall]
[Left - Coastal scene, Cornwall]
After a disappointing cup of coffee and a bite to eat, we turned around and headed back towards Swindon. This time we took the coastal road north for a little way in order to get a look at the countryside.
The houses are all of stone, a grey granite which makes everything appear drab and unprepossessing, and the cloud cover didn't help. You can see from the picture at the left that the horizon was almost invisible.
It was a nice drive, but the car has to be returned in the morning, so we decided that we would keep to our original plan and drive back to Watchfield.
We made sure that we broke the journey on a regular basis so that we weren't too tired and I was surprised that we arrived back shortly before seven in the evening.
Tuesday 23 October 2007
After returning the car we went off to a local farm where they have a whole bunch of activities for children, baby animals to be petted and fed, various play rooms, a 'maze' of hay bales, walks, tractor rides and so on.
The "ethnic" (or probably more correctly, international) wives had arranged a bus to take them there for the day but we went separately as Samantha had had a restless night and didn't get much sleep.
The children really enjoyed it, but at about lunch-time Sam was starting to get pretty grumpy so we came back home so she could have a sleep.
In the afternoon I updated this web site and helped Rose to put away the groceries which were delivered after having been ordered on-line. She loves it, as it saves her about two hours of shopping, juggling children and so on. All for an extra charge of less than $10.
[Right - Marcus and the hay bale
If it wasn't for the fact that we're 40km out of Canberra and Queanbeyan it would be a good idea for us too, as I must confess that grocery shopping is not my very favourite activity! That may come as a surprise to our gentle readers, but it's true.
This is effectively the end of our travels in England, as we leave Heathrow at midday on Friday, bound for Washington. We've not been able to do as much as we planned, but we haven't been idle, and we've seen a lot of England and had a lot of fun, as well as having some time with the family.
Margaret is already planning to come back when she retires in three years time, so that we can visit Scotland, Ireland and finally get across to Belgium and the Menin Gate.
It will be something for us to aim for.