Thursday, August 15, 2013

On the Road in Southern England – by Vicki

Paul generously lends us the Red Monster, so we hit the road for a quick swing through the English countryside.  We had an ambitious schedule and not a moment to waste.

Thursday 25 July
After a leisurely breakfast and parting photos we depart for the south.

First stop is the old university town of Cambridge.

Kings College, Trinity College, St Johns College - all those familiar 
names with their grand edifices and internal courtyards humble us

Punting on the river is still a lively tradition by the grad students for the tourists. 

Henley-in-Arden, our overnight stop is close to Stratford-upon-Avon and the high street is lined with black timber framed housing, hotels and shops.

Friday 26 July
We visit William Shakespeare’s birthplace Stratford-upon-Avon

Arriving early we wander along the river catching glimpses of 
traditional narrow boats waiting to transit the lock. 

A short stroll away is the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Theatre. We consider the 
various plays on offer but nothing really suitable for the kids – bother.

But then an RSC staff member advises a behind-the-scenes tour is about to 
begin and would we like to join it – yes! Our guide is a wonderful
actor/raconteur and brings alive the theatre and its rich history. 

We completed our homage with a stop at the grave site.

Back on the road we travel south along Fosse’s Way (old Roman road) into the Cotswolds.

Our journey takes us through quaint villages with thatched roofs (Shipton-on-Stour, Long Compton and Chipping Norton) and some that have Morris Dances named after them (Bledington).

A thatcher at work.

Our camp ground for the night is at Bourton-on-the-Water (but not-on-the-water).

Saturday 27 July
Decamping early we have breakfast beside-the-water in the centre of Bourton-on-the-Water before the weekend crowd arrives.

Quaint stone houses are nestled close together down narrow winding roads and lanes. Willows hang over the river and ducks paddle to and fro.
Replete we settle into the car and head for Avebury Stone Circle, circa 2600BC. Our route takes us passed West Kennet Long Barrow (burial mound), which sits high in the landscape. It is amazing to see a village sitting in the middle of the stone circle and sheep grazing at the base of the stones. A visit to the museum enlightens us about the probable purpose and origin of the stones, stone circle and artifacts.

Avebury Stone Circle is a UNESCO listed World Heritage Site

Three sheep!
Sunday 28 July
Low clouds are racing across the sky but the rain of yesterday afternoon has passed. After a ‘full English’ breakfast – eggs, bacon, mushroom and toast – at our farm stay we head into Bath. At 8am there are few cars in the narrow one way streets, facilitating a walk around Royal Crescent and The Circus to admire the high sandstone facades.

The Circus:  little has changed from the days of horse and carriage, even the park has well-to-do folk walking their dogs.  The whole of Bath is a World Heritage Site.
In the city we visit the Roman Baths. Audio guides tell the history, enriching the experience and our appreciation of the archeological remains of temples, aqueducts and personal affects. The Roman’s engineering, technical and architectural skills are explained. The decorative richness – painting, tiles and statuary of the various temples - is enlivened through visual technology.

Bath Roman Baths!!!

In the nearby Bath Abbey we read headstones – traveling through the British Empire to India, New Zealand, Australia, Jamaica, Dominica, Cape Town, and Hong Kong.

Smarty pants Zeke points out that he was the first Governor of NSW not Australia.

Outside a stroll by the River Avon and over the Pulteney Bridge with shops either side across its full span takes us to the very interesting Victoria Art Gallery. 

Monday 29 July
Heading southwest we visit the National Trust Stourhead estate gardens. The scale and vision of Henry Hoare II in creating this landscape garden is astounding.

In the romantic style of the late 1700s the garden provides glimpses, sightlines...

... and panoramic vistas across a lake to classical temples, memorials, mystical grottoes, and rare and exotic trees. 

We wander for a few hours enjoying ourselves and being captivated by the views. 

Nearby in the estate sits another folly, King Alfred’s Tower which Gary, Zeke and Nina climbed.

Next stop Stonehenge. We arrive late afternoon to milling crowds and a long queue at the ticket office, with dark rain clouds looming on the horizon.

Not sure about the quality of the experience of Stonehenge we walk across to the ancient burial mounds at Cursus Barrows with views to nearby Kings Barrows. We depart as the rain begins to descend.

Tuesday 30 July
Standing in the cold early morning drizzle, we are first at the Stonehenge Ticket Office. The site is guarded day and night and we wait for the security hand-over to confirm no souvenir hunters have damaged the stones. Audio guide in one hand the other in a pocket, we shrug our shoulders against the drizzle and cold to circumnavigate this famous stone circle.

We are not quite the first on site – some archaeologists got the jump on us.

Created some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, these stones are massive, and the method of construction is surprisingly intricate.

We all agree the effort to visit this World Heritage Site was worth the experience.

Onward, to Salisbury and its cathedral. As we do in most larger towns, we use the excellent and affordable park and ride system to drop us near the cathedral.

The cathedral spire dominates the townscape; closer up it is an impressive building. 

The cathedral has volunteer guides to tell the history and highlight features. The long view down the nave to the altar with its modern blue stained glass window attracts the eye – there is only one original stained glass window left. 

Signs of subsidence are evident – large columns at the transepts with obvious bows and the distance the spire has moved. These survey monuments on the floor show how far the top of the spire has moved over time.

Through the Cloisters we head to the Chapter Room to view the 1215 Magna Carta. There are only four of the original thirteen left and the Salisbury Magna Carta is in very good condition. The legacy and endurance of this document to democracy and law making is impressive (No Photos Please).

Wednesday 31 July
It is a short drive to Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard from our accommodation of the previous night (thanks Gill). We want to visit the three ships on display.

We begin our visit with the 16th century Tudor ship, Mary Rose. Zeke chats with Henry about design ideas.

Launched in 1511, sunk in 1545 and rediscovered in 1971, the salvaging of Henry VIII’s flagship as well as 19,000 artifacts in 1982 and their subsequent preservation and display is fascinating. 

Seeing the frames, planking and decking of Mary Rose is awe-inspiring, as her timbers dry out after 400 hundred years underwater. Her conservation has been slow and pains-taking – the result is worth the time and effort to see. We wished we had longer to spend here.

Next to Mary Rose in dry dock is HMS Victory, Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the battle of Trafalgar (1805). Victory remained in active service until 1831 before finally becoming the flagship for the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy in 1889. 

Victory was placed in permanent dry dock in 1922 and restoration began to return her to her 1805 appearance.

The layout, fixtures and fitting of Victory seek to celebrate Nelson’s naval victory and to commemorate his death.

The last big ship in the historic naval fleet we visit is HMS Warrior, the world’s first iron hulled, steam and sail powered armoured frigate, first commisioned in 1860.

She has been conserved and restored as she was in 1860. Life of seamen appears to change little from 1511 to 1860 – below decks it is dark and crowded, deck-heads are low, and the heads are still at the bow. 

But the progressive technological advancement across the three ships is startling.

Thursday 1 August
Today its our turn for a ship-board experience – crossing the English Channel. Mid-morning we are dropped at the Dover ferry passenger terminal (thanks Sam and Penny).

The white cliffs quickly recede. Across the channel in Calais we collect our hire car and head off on the next leg of our European adventure.

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