I got up about 4am after 5 hours of pretty good sleep. I wrote Saturday’s blog and Dan was up right as I posted it. We finished packing and got going around 7:20am. We had an ambitious agenda for the day, outlined in the map below: A) Stonehenge, B) Old Sarum Castle, C) Salisbury, D) Old Wardour Castle, ending up in Bath. Before we got the English Heritage pass, the only items on the agenda today would have been Salisbury and Bath.
The drive to Stonehenge was the longest driving stretch we’ll have all week, and we made good time. The weather was schizo, moments of raining pretty hard to drizzle to sunshine and through the cycle again. Traffic was pretty light and we were glad about that. Google said the drive would be 2.5 hours, we beat that by about 10 minutes, parking at about 9:35.
This is a bad shot and I almost didn’t post it, but decided to leave it in to make a point. Some time before this, perhaps as much as a mile, we’d seen a sign cautioning about the possibility of long lines. This gave credence to the awful reviews we’d read about horrible crowds and traffic and don’t bother. At 9:30 on a Sunday morning, not bad at all. But the point of the picture is you can easily see Stonehenge from the road. As we were leaving almost 2 hours later we got it: rubberneckers. The traffic was already bad, and we were so thankful we weren’t going back in this direction, but moving on.
We were there early for a 10am appointment we’d made. We parked in the first row of the lot and walked right in, they didn’t make us wait. There’s a little museum off the ticket office which we decided we’d do later, and took the shuttle the 1.5 miles to the site. This time we took the audio guide and found it quite informative. It was designed to be able to get deeper information if you wanted it, but it wasn’t built in to the primary flow, which is my preference. I probably listened to 80% of it.
I’m assuming most readers know at least a little about this. Perhaps the most iconic prehistoric monument on the planet, certainly in the Western world, we were musing later that, dating back to 2500 BC, it is in fact a contemporary of the Egyptian pyramids, which are arguably more impressive. I think part of what makes this so fascinating is there may be more mystery around it than the pyramids. Archeologists have figured out quite a bit about this; sort of everything but “why.” They don’t know what it all means. They know where the stones came from – the larger ones about 33 miles away, the smaller “blue stones” came from an area of Wales 240 miles away that was rumored by the locals then to have magical properties. They don’t know exactly how they got them across those distances, and can only guess how they got them up. They know it took probably hundreds of people to do it. The larger stones weigh 24 tons, the smaller ones 8. These stones have stayed standing because they are sunk into the ground several feet. These stones were all shaped to look a particular way, they didn’t come off the ground this way; and the lentils, the ones across the top, have remained there due to a sophisticated tongue & groove function which wasn’t to become a standard in woodworking for several thousand more years. You’d need lots of different kinds of manual labors managing the movement of the stones – across land, down rivers, up the standing rocks to the top. You’d need mason folks to chip at the stones with unsophisticated tools – this was before the Iron Age; you’d need folks to make the equipment; folks to house, cloth and feed all the workers. You get the idea. It’s a large number of people who worked these lands for hundreds if not thousands of years. And those people just disappeared, leaving behind only a few clues.
This is a heel stone, which stands along the “avenue” which we’ve figured out connected Stonehenge to the Avon river in somewhat of a semi-circle. There are some theories that it was a site for healing, and/or religious observance and/or celebration. The placement of the stones suggest an understanding of the seasons, as they line up for the summer solstice sun to rise and shine directly down the avenue, with the sunset effect during winter solstice on the opposite side of the circle.
It was interesting to see how different it would look as you walked around it depending on the placement of the sun. There was definitely a “back” so it, opposite side of the avenue, where it’s clear not as much attention was paid to the look and placement of the stones.
If you look really closely you see a dot o white in the middle, which is actually a worker. That was one thing that really surprised me – overall it’s much bigger than I imagined. The diameter is 264 feet; the tallest stones are 30 feet high.
We decided to walk back to the visitor center, and the path took us from Stonehenge just to the right corner of this photo past those mounds, through some other monuments that are best seen from the air. This whole area of England has lots of indicators of a large prehistoric existence, and little has been figured out about what it all means.
The scenery on this 1.5 mile walk back was gorgeous. This was right as we got back to the center, the beginning of this huge field with beautiful orange flowers. Below: notice the line that has formed just to get on the shuttle. Just under 2 hours earlier we’d walked right on.
Next we went to Old Sarum Castle, which was about a 15 minute drive. There is still a little town of Sarum, but there’s not much to it. It was at this site that William the conqueror called together all the major land-owners in England to pledge their allegiance to him in 1086. William inherited Old Sarum from the last Saxon king of England. The castle is in ruins so not a ton to see but it was still interesting, at least to us. The bridge below goes over a moat; it was a draw bridge at one time that worked a like a see-saw.
It was a pretty big place. You could get a sense of where things were and what life was like at the time, but that was about it.
The views from the castle would have been amazing. This is a panoramic shot Dan took from the castle hill. On the left is what remains of a cathedral that stood there. See the people in the ditch? Like Walmer, we saw lots of people, somewhat local we imagine, picnicking, walking their dogs, or in the ditch people case, just laying in the grass looking up at the clouds. The vista below looks into the town of Salisbury. The cathedral built there in 1220, whose spire you’re seeing, replaced the one here as it was bigger (WAY bigger you’ll see), King John at the time had been excommunicated by the Pope so having the church close to the castle was no longer important. The markets and villages grew up around the new cathedral and the little town that has been built around this church was eventually deserted. Prior to that, there had been various forts and settlements on this hill dating back 5000 years.
Above: the cathedral ruins closer up. Below: turned around from the photo above to see people picnicking under the trees.
From there we went to the city of Salisbury, just a few minutes away. We stopped for Indian food at Café Diwali which was rated #1 place to eat in TripAdvisor. It was excellent.
Dan got a chicken dish served thali style, above. I had a paneer kabob which was really amazing. Paneer is a cheese if you haven’t had it, so imagine a grilled cheese sandwich with the best naan we’ve ever had. TripAdvisor got it right.
After lunch we walked around Salisbury a bit. We’d parked initially on the street but had a limit on how long we could stay there. We figured out where else to park while we were at lunch and moved the car to a free parking garage after walking around a bit.
This was our first siting of the cathedral and it was breathtaking. We weren’t expecting it to be this big. One of only 4 copies of the Magna Carta is housed here. If you’re not familiar with the document, you owe the very beginnings of democracy to it. Signed in 1215 by King John and his barons, it for the first time established rights and concepts still in place today, such as “innocent until proven guilty” and, especially important during the time of tyrannical John, the idea that the monarchy is not above the law. The copy here at Salisbury has never been moved. so it is in incredible shape, although photos were not allowed.
Above: the entry into the Charter room where it is kept, and the Charter room below.
Above: the spire from the inner courtyard. Below: the nave as you first enter the cathedral.
Above: the choir, or 2nd altar area. Like Canterbury, there was a 3rd altar area but thee wasn’t much too it. Below: Looking back one of the side hallways from the front.
The grounds surrounding it were beautiful and there were lots of people laying about in perfect 70 degree weather.
Our final stop was Old Wardour Castle. This was about 40 minutes away, tucked into the hills and ended with a 5 mile drive up a single lane road.
We were shocked to find a small but full parking lot when we got there 45 minutes before closing at 5:15. And again we found lots of people just hanging about, one guy doing intense training with his puppy, Rosie. We really love that people just come to old, and in this case ruinous, castles, just to hang out. This castle had a short life: Built in the 1390’s and destroyed during the English Civil War in 1644. It’s been in ruins ever since. But what was left was fun and charming, especially the landscape around it. Below: looking back from the entrance at people lounging about on the lawn, and an old grotto behind that.
Above: the courtyard off the entrance. Below: a lovely pond in the back. I was surprised how freely they let you roam around this thing. While it wasn’t dangerous by any stretch, I could see someone not careful hurting themselves pretty easily. Steps were very uneven and the landings as you went up not always intuitive.
I’d hoped having people in the courtyard would give you a sense of height.
You can barely see me standing in the middle up against the castle.
Some scenes from Kevin Costner’s 1991 movie Robin Hood were filmed here.
Bath was about an hour drive from there. We got to our hotel around 6:50pm, got settled a bit, and went out again for dinner. We ended up at a pub called the Raven, which had an upstairs dining room. It had a classic British menu including meat pies, which sold me. I had been thinking at lunch we were at 2 out of 3 of the things I was planning on eating in England: fish and chips, Indian food, meat pies. Box now fully checked.
Dan had a Matador pie with Spanish flavorings and mashed potatoes underneath, above. Mine was chicken with fries. Both had gravy dumped all over it. It totally worked.
A very full but fun day. Today (I’m writing this the next morning again, becoming a habit) we explore Bath and move on to Cardiff this evening.