Minay’s Trip Diary, Sunday May 9, 2010

Stonehenge, Cotswold Villages

I won’t cover getting up and eating the take-away breakfast since Michael covered that pretty well. Let’s just start with the tour. What a treat to have someone who knows the roads do all the driving, so I didn’t have to navigate and could just enjoy the scenery! I learned so many things from our very good guide. For instance, there are many military instillations in the area because it is relatively remote from big cities. There are signs for tank crossings dotting the landscape. Also, we learned about thatched roofs. First, they used to be a sign of less status and wealth since only the well-to-do could afford the slate roofs which were preferred because they didn’t need as much maintenance and were fireproof. But, as we approach the present time, thatched roofs became a status symbol because they now cost more and are more “authentic” I suppose. Also, each thatcher had his own way of finishing the tops of the roofs and you can tell who did what work by the pattern they used. All I know is that they are utterly charming.

I was very much looking forward to Stonehenge, since I had read about it and seen documentaries about it all my life. We have come to know so much more about these stones in recent years due to more expert analysis and more extensive excavations. Michael is right about your first view of the stones – they don’t look “right” because it isn’t the prototypical view that is used in all the posters, etc. But you really need to just be there a while to let the age and size and scope of them sink into your consciousness. How were they built? Why were they built? Why so many all over England? I wished I could have just sat and contemplated them for a while, but the need of the tour to move on, to say nothing about the freezing wind, made that impractical. Salisbury Plain is just that – a wide open expanse of gently rolling land with very few trees. In fact, the only things to slow down the sharp winds were some strands of wire to fence off the area and the sheep in the adjoining field. But despite the cold, the wind, and the rain, it was a stop very worth making.

After a brief pullover to the side of the road to see the Woodhenge site, our next stop was to see one of the white chalk horses. I felt rather sorry for our guide at this stop. Here he is showing us one of his cultural treasures and most of us were enthralled by the live horses that came up to see if we had any treats. One was a shire horse who looks something like a Clydesdale with his shaggy coat and feet – but on a much smaller scale. The other was a pony who wanted to taste my coat buttons and had a somewhat nasty temper when told they weren’t a snack. I suppose the chalk horse was also less impressive because it is just a “modern” work from the 18th century and not something from the time concurrent with the building of the pyramids. Still, how did they fashion something on such a large scale working so close up and yet manage to make it look like a horse from a distance? I mean, I have trouble drawing a horse that looks like a horse on a piece of paper much less scraping one out of the hillside to be viewed from a distance.

Minay converses with a Shire horse

Minay converses with a Shire horse

Time to leave the horses, both real and chalk, and move on to Avebury which is the largest stone circle in Europe. Here we have to thank medieval superstition for the stones still being in existence. During the middle ages the church wanted these pagan stones to be destroyed, but the villagers (knowing these stones had been there “forever” and fearing bad karma if they were destroyed) decided to lay them flat and bury them instead. Thank you superstitions! Honestly, I don’t see how they managed it because these stones are so massive, but I am really glad they did. Our guide talked about ley lines and lines of magnetism as a reason for the placement of these henges and their accompanying ceremonial pathways. I’m not sure about that, but there is most definitely something about these places that captures your imagination.

After leaving Avebury we went on to Lacock, an utterly charming Cotswold village. The first part of our day showed why a guided tour is a good thing – experienced driver doing all the hard work, informed talks about what you are seeing, and someone who knows what you need to see in a given area. But Lacock was an argument for going it alone. I absolutely fell in love with this enchanting place. Everywhere you looked there was something else to take a picture of – old stone cottages, lovely little gardens, overgrown stone fences, bits of architecture that captured your eye. I could have stayed here for hours or even days just looking at everything.

West Street, in Lacock

West Street, in Lacock

First though, I agreed that it was time for lunch. We went to an old pub, The George Inn (which was steeped in character), for physical sustenance. Michael did the pub thing with fish and chips and ale. Me? I went the “let’s warm up Minay” route having tomato basil soup and a pot of hot tea. Lovely, just lovely.

Here’s an example of a wonderful door – looking like something a Hobbit would use. I’m not certain what the small “elf” door down in the lower right of the picture is, but I think it is a built in boot scraper to clean your shoes from the mud of the unpaved streets (unpaved when the house was built that is) before you entered the home.

Door and boot-scraper, Lacock

Door and boot-scraper, Lacock

Just one more bit of gushing before we move on with our day trip. Here’s a picture of a stone house dripping with fragrant wisteria. What a balm to the soul. I realize this may not be everyone’s cup of tea as a photo – but really, look at it – flowers, old slate roof, a brick chimney and stone walls. What else could you ask for?

Wisteria covered roof, Lacock

Wisteria covered roof, Lacock

Very reluctantly, I allowed myself to be pulled away and put back on the bus to go to another Cotswold village, this time Castle Combe. This is what it looks like walking through the village.

The main street in Castle Combe, called The Street

The main street in Castle Combe, called The Street

Honestly, I almost lost my mind here – there were so many things to photograph, look at and savor. Here’s a picture of someone’s window. Just imagine the life that has passed by this window on the street outside – and what the people living inside experienced as well. What stories this window could tell.

Window, in Castle Combe

Window, in Castle Combe

One final image to leave with you as we had to leave Castle Combe behind. Here’s a little stream that runs through the edge of town. Such a spot of peace to enjoy when life gets you down.

A stream, in Castle Combe, named By Brook

A stream, in Castle Combe, named By Brook

But, time to head back home to Bath. I must admit, I think I whined a little as the sight of this village faded behind us. Again, this was the part of the guided tour that I did not enjoy – having to leave before I was ready. Although, I should be honest, I probably would have whined if we had been on our own and had to leave after a full day here. It just spoke to my soul being there.

Back in Bath I crashed for a bit in the room while Michael gallantly went to feed the meter. When he returned it was time to go to Yak Yeti Yak to have our Nepalese dinner. I’m not entirely sure what I was eating at any point, but I enjoyed it all – especially the hot, sweet, spicy chai tea. And the ambiance was very nice as well. Every time I drink chai tea now I am transported back to that place and that time.   All in all, a good end to a very lovely day.

What tastes and sounds and smells transport you to a different time and place?

Minay

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