Monday, 28 May 2012

Stonehenge and Bath

Are you all right? 

This is the typical Brit way of greeting people, like us Yanks saying hi or hello.  It's kind of funny because whenever the new US people hear it we think, do I look alright?  What's the matter with me?  Just another cultural difference, only this one is more amusing then other ones we have been encountering.  Now onto the weekend.

We were greeted with blazing sunshine and upper 70's (around 25-27C) temps on our relaxed trip south to see the Avebury Stone Circle, Stonehenge, then explore the city of Bath.  (Coincidentally all places are Unesco World Heritage Sites so we ended up having a World Heritage weekend.)  Absolutely beautiful weather, this was one of the best weather weekends (the weekend in London with Brandon being the other) that I have experienced over here.  I even have a little lobster face going on from being outside both days, hopefully this will help a little for the weather in Israel next weekend. 

Our trip route for the visual map readers.  The drive was gorgeous, a lot of it was through The Cotswolds (Cotswolds link) which has rolling farmland mixed with the typical cattle and sheep, small patches of woods and the hedgerow separated grazing plots on green hills and valleys, and numerous small villages with hundred year old building exteriors.  Point E is home, Point B is Avebury, Point C is Stonehenge and Point D is Bath.  2.5 hours from E to B, 45 minutes from B to C, one hour from C to D, and 2.5 hours from D to E.  Birmingham (OZZIE!!!) is pronounced "ber-ming-um" by the locals and is the airport we use most often for our out of country experiences.

First stop was Avebury Stone Circle... after I turned around to go back home and get the camera.  Fortunately we were only fifteen minutes from home.  How can I forget the camera?  Of all things to forget.  Anyway, we arrive at Avebury three hours after leaving the house the first time.  I am not sure how old they are, depending on the website they are from 2,000 to 5,000 BC.  Here is one link to the circle for the curious.  The link has some history and an artists rendition of the completed circle.  For those not going to check out the link - the site is actually a bunch of circles on a 28 acre site.  It claims to be the largest stone circle in the world and may very well be, the largest diameter circle measure 427 meters (1400 feet).  As you will see the day was sunny, warm and windy - a great day to check out the outside attractions.
A shot of a quadrant for one of the circles.  Nice day, eh?

The kids sitting on one of the bigger rocks.  How did they put these stones here 4,000 years ago?

Lunch was at The Red Lion, established 1802.  Food was okay, the building exterior was awesome.  We also walked around some of the Avebury World Heritage site but didn't go inside anywhere so no pictures.  The buildings look like the rest of the Cotswolds which are shown later.

View down Upavon in the Cotswolds.  Loved the buildings.

Next up was an early stretch goal.  We saw signs for Woodhenge so we detoured off to the site for a quick inspection.  You can read about it here or on Wiki.  Not much to see so we only stopped for a few minutes, took a few pics and left.
Woodhenge info board for the non-link readers.

The Woodhenge site.  The original wood pillars have been replaced with concrete pillars.

Kalle conquering Woodhenge.  Yeah Kal!

Next up was Stonehenge.  I'm not sure how much introduction this needs but you can read a Wiki page here or the official site here.  The site is so old we don't really know why the site was built or what it was used for so a few educated guesses were used on the audio tour.  A few basic facts - the site is from around 3,000 BC, henge means hanging, and it is in the middle of NOWHERE.  Both Avebury and Stonehenge are in the middle of the countryside which I thought was strange.  I will also sprinkle in some facts from the informative audio tour with the pictures.  A very neat trip, worth stopping by in my opinion.  Before we came over my English sites to do list included five items - Big Ben in London (check), see white cliffs of Dover, stand on Land's End by mileage marker, mini tour of Beatles attractions in Liverpool, and see Stonehenge.  Two down, three to go.  Seeing Stonehenge (with the interesting audio guide) turned out to be my favourite part of the fun weekend.

Stonehenge info board for the non-link readers.

A little windy out.  The vertical stone you see is only two-thirds of the rock, the other third is below ground.  Impressive sight, even more so when you consider the tools available to erect it at the time.

Pic from the other side.  See the bump on top of the tallest stone?  That is part of the mortice and tennon joint used to attach the horizontal ring stones to the vertical standing stones.  The joints are common in woodworking.

The stone on the left is thought to be one of four quadrant stones that were part of the original structure. No one knows what their purpose was but if you connected the four stones with lines, they intersected in the exact middle of a stone in the centre of the ring.  Probably an ancient goat sacrifice altar or something. 

The intact ring side of the structure.  A little supposition on their part I think but the guide story said you could use the stones as a calendar based on the position of the sun and where the sun shone between the stones. 

Artists drawing of the original circle.

After Stonehenge was our last World Heritage sight, Bath (pronounced ba-ath with a long a by the posh people).  Everyone, and I mean everyone, says you have to see Bath.  The city itself is a World Heritage site because of the 18th century architecture, the scenic valley setting around the River Avon, and the Baths from our tour guide (more from him later).  Not a lot of attractions here but visually stunning to walk around.  I can not think of another town or city I have been in where all of the buildings are from the same era.  We all enjoyed the city which isn't always the case on our travels.     

Since we were on a lazy river pace it was late afternoon when we arrived in Bath so we decided to tour Bath Abbey (official link) first thing.  The existing church is the third church on the site; the existing church dates to the 1600's with some remodelling done in the 1800's.  Nice church overall but not as impressive as some of the ones we have seen in England or our overseas travels.  Probably not fair to compare this to all of the churches/cathedrals/abbeys we have seen but it did have some fine points.

Original church claim to fame.  Not much going on in the US at this time except for the Native American Moundbuilders and the Mayans collapsing far south of us.

The centre nave with gorgeous ceiling.  The upper windows were clear and the lower windows were stained glass.  We were treated to the painfully loud choir practising for something. 

Chandelier, side of nave ceiling, stained glass windows and American flag - I had to include this picture even though the flag is hung wrong.  If only one side of the flag is showing the stars are always in the top left.  If the stars can be seen from both sides (as shown) they should be pointing to the north.  In this case they are pointing south.  It was neat to see the flag at least.

Stained glass window over baptismal fount.

See placard below for tomb details.

See above.  Prelate of the Order of the Garter sounds like the head of the Animal House Omega's.

The walls were covered with plagues identifying the people buried in the church.  Very common for people to be buried in churches and have wall mounted plaques glorifying their lives, what was uncommon here was that every possible space on the walls was covered. 

See below for an explanation of the tomb.

For above.  It struck me as funny that he was buried elsewhere, final revenge maybe?

Massive stained glass window over altar.

View down side of nave.  Still loving the ceilings.

After the church everything else was closing so we ate at a forgettable Italian place and had a choice to make.  We could hang around town and catch the comedy walking tour which was supposed to be very funny, or we could head to our apartment which included a pool.  I bet all the parents in the audience can guess the winner.  Pool, pool, pool, which was okay.  We were all tired and looking forward to getting off out our feet by now.

Typical view on our weekend drive.  This was on the way to our apartment which was twenty-five minutes north of Bath.  

I booked the trip on short notice so we were a little further out than I would have liked but it turned out being a very nice place with a Sunday morning surprise.  The place online said apartment but it sounded more like a B&B which it kind of was.  Country B&B would be more accurate.  The place is a 28 acre working farm and the family renovated the space above the garage to make an apartment with a bedroom, family room, toilet (Brit word for bathroom), and kitchen.  A quiet place with tons of ambiance, this was Kalle favourite part of the trip.  We did use the pool but it was COLD!  Chicken liver Lori didn't get in but the three of us did splash around for a while.  Brave Kalle wins the blue ribbon for getting into the pool first.  We had the pool to ourselves and it was deep (over my head in the deep end) which was great, the only drawback was the heated pool.  Obviously heated pool in England means something different than heated pool in America.   

The apartment is on the top floor, the pool house is on the right.

The family room.  We ended up watching NCIS and CSI:NY as a family to cap off the evening.

The Teresa Robinett pic - they had at least three horses on the farm.  (Bummed that we missed Austin's graduation, I do plan on collecting on the cookout rain check when we return stateside Teresa.) 

The Steve Frey pic - they also had sheep.  This view is of the backyard which was a scenic valley.

The first Jim Seppanen pic - I thought the tree on the left was interesting.  If you look close the rough outer bark seems to be wrapped the smooth inner trunk instead of the typical ringed tree trunk.  

This place even had racing sheep - awesome!  Number 13 appears to be fuelling up for the next qualifying run.

Breakfast was continental.  You can see one of the kids roll out beds in the lower left.  The sloped roof adds to the ambiance.

They also had this cute little pup, I barely caught her in the frame as she galloped to greet us in the morning.

View of the farm from the driveway. 

Whilst checking into the apartment Saturday night we found out that Castle Combe is right down the road.  Castle Combe is where some of War Horse was filmed so Lori added the village as a stretch goal - way to go Lori!  We haven't seen War Horse yet so I guess we will have to see it now.  Typically I don't like movies about animals but I want to see it now that we saw the village.

Picturesque village centre.

Old looking house.

Great view down Lower Castle Combe.

Surprise!  On our way back to Bath we saw a sign for a boot sale.  A bunch of cars were going there so we decided to check it out.  This was set up in the parking lot of a race track which means lots and lots of cars with tables upon tables of treasure.  Now this is the type of boot sale I was looking for.  KJ picked up a marble hand carved chess set and I picked up a few treasures, you'll have to wait until the end of the blog to see my treasures. 
Our first "proper" boot sale at Castle Combe Circuit.  We stayed long enough to collect some treasures then we were off again to Bath.

Typical view of the driving near the apartment, the tree formed natural tunnels are always fun to drive through.

By now we are close to missing the free mayor's walking tour of Bath so I had to drive like Bo Duke running from Roscoe through the country roads.  I think Lori had her eyes closed most of the time, I know I did.  We arrived with two minutes to spare after double timing it from the car park.  The tour was very good, 99% of the commentary on the following pictures is from the guide's spiel.  Any mistakes on the pictures commentary is due to my failing memory, I probably should have brought a recorder since the guy was so good and I've forgotten most of what he told us already.

Face of Bath Abbey which is near the tour starting point.  Jesus is in the top center, the 12 apostles are on the side columns (six on each side), and a tree encircled by a crown tribute to Oliver King (link) on the left. 

The first bath on the right.  Per our guide this is only place in the UK that has hot spring (45C - 113F) baths. 

The main reason the city is a World Heritage site is the 18th century architecture.  The town was almost totally rebuilt in the 18th century so almost all of the building are off the same architecture style which made the sights on the walk first class.  This tour actually was Karl's favourite part of the weekend.    

Rare example of remaining Tudor (15th & 16th century) architecture - the pointed rooftops.

The Royal Theatre - the guide told a couple funny stories here.  One of the funnier ones was of a wealthy man who was so terrible an actor that people would pelt him with food while he was performing.  He was the rare combination of having enough wealth that he could afford to tour the area with his own money plus he was so bad an actor that people would pay to see him perform Shakespeare. 

Remains of medieval wall.

18th century man hole cover, the square stone with the hole in the middle.  Each house had its own man hole cover connected to the house coal bin.  The coal delivery men would remove the cover, shovel in the house's coal, then replace the cover and move onto the next house.

Example of Palladian architecture (Wiki link) which emphasises symmetry and proportionality.  Very popular style during the walking tour.

One of the funny parts of the tour was that two of its most famous residents, Jane Austen (link) and Horatio Nelson (link), both hated staying in Bath.  Austen moved there in her early 20's with her parents and stayed for four years.  Nelson stayed there as a Lieutenant while recuperating from wounds and was unhappy at not being able to mingle with the lady folk or with the bottle.  Bath went from being a Wild West style party town to a prim and proper civil town, apparently Nelson missed the party phase.

In the book Persuasion by Jane Austen the final scene is set here.  Much of the book is set in Bath I guess and this is the gravel trail where Captain Wentworth escorts Anne Elliot to her room.

The second Jim Seppanen pic - I thought the vertical ridges looked interesting.

What do you do when indoor plumbing is becoming vogue and the houses aren't equipped to handle the plumbing?  You put on a hanging loo (toilet) of course.  You can see the small cylindrical room above the gate.  The waste went straight down a pipe to a bucket below.

See the blocked in square along the ground?  This is where the servants would put the waste filled buckets at night for the night waste collector to pick up and empty.

The Royal Crescent (Wiki link), thirty houses in a crescent shape.  The museum Royal Crescent #1 is the square building on the right.  Interestingly only the face of the buildings are the same.  The facade was built first then the houses were sold individually and the owners were allowed to built the rest of the houses as they wanted.  Impressive sight but hard to capture in 2D.

The Circus (Wiki link), four houses set in a circle with hundred year old trees in the middle.  Major Andre (the British officer captured by the American colonists hanged as a spy for assisting Benedict Arnold) and Nic Cage (prior to his tax troubles) owned houses here.  Very eye catching but impossible to capture with a point and shoot camera.

Another example of Palladium architecture, this was started by John Wood, The Elder, and finished by John Wood, The Younger.  Both were architects and designed a lot of buildings in Bath.

The Assembly Rooms, one of the examples of the Roman architectural influence.  The Romans sure loved their pediments, or the triangle above the doorway for the non-architecturally interested. 

Interesting iron overhang that was popular in the 1800's.  See the upside down cones?  Those are torch extinguishers that the home owners would use to snuff out their torches after walking home in the dark.  A side note is the Australian in the bottom left of the picture. One of the many, many interesting tidbits that came from the tour was that Australia used plastic instead of paper to print money.  The tour director asked everyone where they were from and tried to work the origins into the walk at one point or another.  The group included one English pair (from Sussex), Australians, Polish, Chinese, Indian and American (Michigan, North Carolina and Indiana). 

The last remaining Roman Gate into the city - this is the East Gate.  At one time the entire city was walled in and gates were used to enter.  We are standing at street level now, look how far down street level was 2,000 years ago.

Beau Nash Obelisk in Queens Square.  Beau Nash (Wiki link) was a leading character in 1800's Bath.  The tour stopped in front of Nash's house at one point and the guide told us some colourful stories of Nash and his exploits.

The Pulteney Bridge (Wiki link), built in 1773 and designed by Robert Adam, another architect who left his stamp all over Bath.  From the site:
Pulteney Bridge, together with the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, is one of the world's most beautiful bridges. Like the Ponte Vecchio it is one of a handful of historic bridges in the world with shops built into it.

Built for William Pulteney by Robert Adams, the bridge was an attempt to connect central Bath to land on the other bank of the River Avon and make Pulteney's fortune. In spite of its practical origins it is surely the most romantic bridge in the world, best viewed from Parade Gardens park by the crescent weir.

One last tidbit from our guide - the River Avon is one of nine River Avon's in England.  Avon is derived from a Welsh word meaning river so the River Avon means River River.  I wonder if the Elliott's knew they lived in River?

Angled shot of Pulteney Bridge.  I was trying to centre the waterfalls in front of the bridge.

Dana Johnson pic - lunch was at The Roman Baths Kitchen.  Lori and I split the sampler platter.  Decent tasting, the highlight for me was the chutney and beet sauce slathered on bread.

Bath Abbey on left, Roman Bath on right.

The original complex footprint.

The Great Roman Bath with its famous green water.

Side of Bath Abbey from the Great Bath. 

Hot Spring info board.

Model showing the water path in from the hot spring.  One of the things I didn't know about the baths is how many baths were on the site.  I didn't count but there was six or eight smaller side baths plus the King's Bath plus a couple hot rooms plus a cold bath. 

The famous Gorgon's Head was on the pediment over the Temple entrance.

The museum had some artifacts such as head stones, tools, altars and the like.  The head above is thought to be from the 1st century AD.

Altar from the Temple area.  At this point we are walking in the temple but most of it is ruins.

2,000 year old Temple steps.

The Roman Drain.

This lady gave Kalle and Lori some 1st century beauty tips.

The King's Bath.  The orange water line was the original water level.

Heated Room, more amazing Roman engineering.

The Cold Bath.  If memory serves correctly the bathing experience process was disrobe, rub down by slave, heated room to warm up, bath, then cold bath.  Some places had a second heated room that was warmer than the first room. 

On Sunday afternoon the street performers were out.  Yes that is a live pigeon eating out of his hand.

Not only do I not see many Triumphs, I don't see any with an umbrella roof.  Classy.

Scenic view on the way home.  All of the weekend views (Bath buildings, countryside, Cotswolds, etc.) was Lori's favourite part of the trip.

And finally, check out my boot sale loot.  I found 13 which bumps my total up to twenty-four.  My fave is the Guinness with the contoured bottom and embossed harp on the back.  The two Stella pints and half pints in the front row are cool also.

We're off to Israel next weekend so I'll see y'all in two weeks.

Thanks for listening,