Fleet to Bath, via Salisbury
After we were rested and ready to tackle the road again, we got back on the M3 and headed west. We still had about fifty miles to go to reach Salisbury, and then another forty miles to Bath, about 130 miles for the day. We left the M3 after Basingstoke, and took the A303 almost as far as Amesbury. We turned south on the A338 for the ten mile drive into Salisbury to see Salisbury Cathedral. If we had stayed on A303 for another eight or nine miles, we would have driven right past Stonehenge, but we had already arranged for a tour there in a few days (Sunday, the 9th), so we bypassed it on the east heading into Salisbury, and cut to the west of it when we left after seeing the cathedral.
As we got close to Salisbury, we turned to our Rick Steves England 2010 book for directions. Just before we got to town, the A338 merged with the A30 (also called the London Road), and then merged with A36, which became Churchill Way, so we were thoroughly confused. We just started looking for signs to Salisbury Cathedral. I think we might have exited A36 a few hundred feet after the St. Marks roundabout, because I know we turned under A36 somewhere north of the cathedral. We zig-zagged a bit and found St. Ann Street, and then (double miracles) found the cathedral AND a free car park next to it.
We took another look at our license plate before we went in, the block letters reminding us less of a ten than an I-O. Flee-Oh Widd-ix. A mnemonic device for remembering it had already formed. See?
The cathedral, although wrapped in scaffolding for repairs, was magnificent. You can see the scaffolding in this shot of me at the edge of the Cathedral Close.
The cathedral’s spire, over 400 feet tall, is the tallest in England. Statues in high relief of (what I assume are) former bishops are mounted on pedestals on many of the exterior walls. There’s a picture of a few of them in today’s photo album. The interior is pretty spectacular too, but the best part of the visit (in my opinion) was seeing the nearly 800-year-old Magna Carta. The cathedral has one (of only four 1215 AD copies) of the original document on display in their Chapter House. It is also the best preserved of the four. The other three copies are in the British Library and Lincoln Castle.
If you are anywhere near Houston between now and August 17, 2014, you should try to get to the Houston Museum of Natural Science where they have an exhibit of a 1217 AD copy of the Magna Carta, on loan from Hereford Cathedral. Here’s an article from Hereford Cathedral about the document going to Houston.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we finished seeing Salisbury, so we needed to get on the road again. We were going to take the A36 all the way to Bath, another forty miles. About an hour, you say? Yes, if we’re lucky. The A36 is a two-lane road, well-paved, with speed limits that range from 30 to 60 mph. The speed was marked frequently, painted in large round circles on the roadway.
Note: If I haven’t mentioned it before, now is a good time. The British count their distances in inches, feet, yards and miles, just like we Americans. Their mile is the same distance as our mile. An interesting factoid, though, the British gallon is 4.5 liters (BrE – litres), and an American gallon is 3.8 liters.
I digress. Back to A36. It was a good road, but sometimes a little narrow, with minimal shoulders in spots, and Flio was a much wider and longer car than we had anticipated. I was also trying to pay particular attention to my speed because the British countryside is littered with speed cameras, and there were three of them on A36 between Salisbury and Bath (our road atlas had nicely marked them for us). I’ll admit in advance (before Minay tells you) that I might have slid in and out of the wrong lane a few times. (8^)
I’ll blame it on the countryside. My eyes kept drifting off to the gently rolling green hills in the distance, and the vibrantly yellow fields of rapeseed (canola) that were scattered all along the way. In my defense (BrE – defence), it was better to have a wandering mind and eye there, on relatively flat roads, than doing the same thing on high mountain passes (like I did on our honeymoon in Colorado).
We got to Bath about 5:30 pm, with no injuries or car damage. Now we had to find Anabelle’s, our B&B. We had a couple of small maps of Bath (one in the Rick Steves book and another in the back of the AA Road Atlas), but neither of them showed the roads outside of the city clearly. A36 is also labeled Warminster Road outside of the city, and it swings east of the city, then doubles back toward the west, curving around a series of woods and the Bath Golf Club. We ended up slightly north of the city, and were suddenly faced with some very confusing signs. Nothing that said “Bath Business Area” or “Inner City” or anything like that. We came to a sign at a split that looked like this.
See? Nothing that says Downtown Bath (or something similar). Using the maps we had, we couldn’t tell whether A36 entered Bath from the south or the north. It turned out it did both. If we had turned left toward Bristol, we would have headed south along the east side of Bath, and could have taken North Parade Road and crossed the Avon River to Manvers Street, where Annabelle’s was. Or, we could have stayed on A36 while it curved south of the city, crossed the Avon there, and entered the town from the south. If we had turned right at the split, we could have taken the A4 into town from the north, and rode it right into the middle of town. No matter which direction we had gone, we would undoubtedly have had a hard time because half of the downtown streets are one-way. We chose the southern route, taking the A36 under a railway bridge, then across a bridge over the Avon to discover we could only turn left there. We needed to turn right.
After a few turns, left, then right, then left again, we had our first shouting match of the trip. It went something like this.
Michael: Where do I turn?
Minay: I don’t know where we are.
Michael: We’re on Green Park Road. Or Charles Road. I think.
Minay: I see Charles. Stay on it.
Michael: I can’t. It’s ending. Tell me where to turn.
Minay: I’ll tell you where to go.
And the conversation probably went downhill from there. Somehow we finally made it to Manvers Street, circling around from the north. A couple of months ago, I had asked Natacha (Annabelle’s manager) about parking, and she told me about the city parking lot right across the street from her, and about the parking lot at the end of Manvers Street at the railway station (where we had entered the city, from the south). Coming down Manvers, we saw the parking lot (BrE – car park) on the left, and the blue awning for Annabelle’s on the right, but the parking lot was closed for repairs. We would have to park at the railway station. It took a bit more circling before we figured out how to find our way through a tunnel under the railway, and to the parking lot.
The parking lot (BrR – car park) was a metered pay-by-the day scheme (AmE – plan). We parked and walked to the meter machine. It took coins, and we didn’t have enough (£9.20 per day, or $14.00), so I left Minay at the car, went into the railway station, and got change. Then we schlepped our suitcases and backpacks about 150 yards up the hill to Annabelle’s. Natacha greeted us warmly, and got her boyfriend to carry our luggage up the narrow staircase to our room on the second floor.
Note: In America we count our floors as first floor, second floor, third floor, etc. In England it’s ground floor, first floor, second floor, etc. So our room was a floor higher than you might expect.
Completely exhausted, we crashed on our two double beds. Even though we were tempted to not even look for dinner, after we had rested a bit, we wandered into town, near the Bath Abbey, and ate at Sally Lunn’s restaurant, located in one of the oldest houses in Bath. We had ratatouille, served on a Sally Lunn bun. Delicious. A perfect way to end our first day in England.
Once we were back in our room, we tried to read for a bit, but were worn out, so we turned out the lights and I soon fell asleep, probably around 10:00. My mind was probably saying it was 4:00 pm back in Houston, but I’m sure my body answered, “Screw that. I’m tired.”
Next up, Minay’s account of the day.