Henge!

Got my keyboard working again, so I wanted to get a post up about yesterday’s trip out to Stonehenge, Lacock, and Bath.

Okay. First of all, 3:45 AM is very early to get up, especially on vacation. That said, I made it over to the hotel pick-up point well ahead of 5:00 AM – the pick-up time – so that’s good.

Overall, the trip was fantastic. Our driver and guide seemed to be good friends who worked well together, keeping us informed and entertained and on time. Despite the tyranny of the schedule, they were very flexible and accommodating when they could be, and just generally really good guys.

We made it out to Stonehenge around 8:00 AM – well past the sunrise, but we still had the circle to ourselves1 for an hour, and it was awesome.

At the visitor centre, before you hop on the shuttle bus, there's a replica neolithic village set up. This is the kind of place the builders of Stonehenge would have lived.
At the visitor centre, before you hop on the shuttle bus, there’s a replica neolithic village set up. This is the kind of place the builders of Stonehenge would have lived.
Here we are approaching the stones. If you're on a regular visit, you don't really get to come much closer than this.
Here we are approaching the stones. If you’re on a regular visit, you don’t really get to come much closer than this.
We got to go right into the middle of the circle. But no touching. Very strict rule.
We got to go right into the middle of the circle. But no touching. Very strict rule.
The stones are really huge. They do a very good job of looming. Look at these guys loom!
The stones are really huge. They do a very good job of looming. Look at these guys loom!
The circle is incomplete, there's enough still standing that you can see some of the avenues created.
The circle is incomplete, there’s enough still standing that you can see some of the avenues created.
In keeping with these kinds of places, the stones mark an inside and an outside to the space. The outer ring was once made of trilothons like this, forming gateways through which things - people, animals, sunlight - entered.
In keeping with these kinds of places, the stones mark an inside and an outside to the space. The outer ring was once made of trilothons like this, forming gateways through which things – people, animals, sunlight – entered.
It was kind of heady standing in the middle of the place. The stones are only about 2/3 of their height above ground; the other third is buried so that they don't fall down. Still, almost 5000 years of time and abuse will knock some down.
It was kind of heady standing in the middle of the place. The stones are only about 2/3 of their height above ground; the other third is buried so that they don’t fall down. Still, almost 5000 years of time and abuse will knock some down.
The fact that there's still this much of it standing is kind of remarkable.
The fact that there’s still this much of it standing is kind of remarkable.
Graffiti on the stones. The deep-cut, straight line is from the Tudor era, so around 400 years old. Most of the rest seem to be later, around Victorian era. But down near the bottom, there are carvings of a dagger and a hammer, that date from the early bronze age, so around 3000 - 4000 years old.
Graffiti on the stones. The deep-cut, straight line is from the Tudor era, so around 400 years old. Most of the rest seem to be later, around Victorian era. But down near the bottom, there are carvings of a dagger and an axe, that date from the early bronze age, so around 3000 – 4000 years old. I’ve messed with the contrast a fair bit on this picture to get the stuff to show up.
Frank was kind enough to take a number of pictures of me in the circle. This one gives a really good idea of the scale of the place.
Frank was kind enough to take a number of pictures of me in the circle. This one gives a really good idea of the scale of the place.
Flying all over the stones, perching here and there, where a number of black birds. They were too small for crows or ravens, so I asked one of the security guards what they were. They are jackdaws, relatives of the crows, ravens, rooks, but smaller.
Flying all over the stones, perching here and there, where a number of black birds. They were too small for crows or ravens, so I asked one of the security guards what they were. They are jackdaws, relatives of the crows, ravens, rooks, but smaller.

After our hour in the circle, it was back to the coach and on to Lacock for breakfast. We had it in a pub called The George, which was established in 1361, and it was a very welcome meal by that time. I spent the meal chatting with a couple of very nice ladies from the US about The Book of Mormon, which they, too, had seen just a couple of nights before.

Then, we went for bit of a stroll around the village on the way back to the coach.

One of Lacock's big claims to fame is that they filmed some scenes from Harry Potter here. This, for example, is the house they used for Harry's parents in the movies.
One of Lacock’s big claims to fame is that they filmed some scenes from Harry Potter here. This, for example, is the house they used for Harry’s parents in the movies.
Another claim to fame is Lacock Abbey. The tower on the right end was the subject of the first ever photograph, as the inventor of the process lived here. Also, it's a very pretty building. Normally, I am told, the tour doesn't go to the Abbey, but the day was so nice that Frank and Malcolm took us in one end of the grounds just for the photo opportunity.
Another claim to fame is Lacock Abbey. The tower on the right end was the subject of the first ever photograph, as the inventor of the process lived here. Also, it’s a very pretty building. Normally, I am told, the tour doesn’t go to the Abbey, but the day was so nice that Frank and Malcolm took us in one end of the grounds just for the photo opportunity.

Back on the coach and on to Bath.

Bath was an important city during the Roman era of Britain. There were hot springs bubbling out of the ground, which the Romans took as a divine gift. They named it Aquae Sulis, and2 blended the idea of the local goddess, Sulis, with their own Minerva. They constructed a temple to Sulis Minerva here, and it became a centre for healing and pilgrimage.

The Victorians saw the long-vanished Roman baths rediscovered and rebuilt, turning the city of Bath into a world-famous spa city, where the rich would travel to take the waters.

This is the square in front of Bath Cathdral, with the Roman Baths on the right. Very busy place, with no scene of a baby-eating bishop anywhere.
This is the square in front of Bath Cathdral, with the Roman Baths on the right. Very busy place, with no scene of a baby-eating bishop anywhere.
The door of the cathedral is, I am told, about 700 years old, and it is absolutely beautiful.
The door of the cathedral is, I am told, about 700 years old, and it is absolutely beautiful.
Going to the Roman Baths these days means visiting a wonderful, very full museum that teaches you all about the lives of the people who lived in Aquae Sulis. I could easily have spent a day here, but I only had about 90 minutes. This bit I thought was very cool: it's the pieces they've been able to find of the Temple of Sulis Minerva pediment, a kind of decorative gable held up by columns above the portico of the temple. Note the male gorgon face on the shield in the centre. Archaeologists are apparently still scratching their heads over that.
Going to the Roman Baths these days means visiting a wonderful, very full museum that teaches you all about the lives of the people who lived in Aquae Sulis. I could easily have spent a day here, but I only had about 90 minutes. This bit I thought was very cool: it’s the pieces they’ve been able to find of the Temple of Sulis Minerva pediment, a kind of decorative gable held up by columns above the portico of the temple. Note the male gorgon face on the shield in the centre. Archaeologists are apparently still scratching their heads over that.
And, finally, the baths themselves. This is the main bath area, the Great Baths. The water comes out of the ground at the Sacred Spring at about 46C. By this point, it's cooled enough to be warm but not scalding. Other pools exist closer and farther from the Spring, with different temperatures, but this was the most popular one.
And, finally, the baths themselves. This is the main bath area, the Great Baths. The water comes out of the ground at the Sacred Spring at about 46C. By this point, it’s cooled enough to be warm but not scalding. Other pools exist closer and farther from the Spring, with different temperatures, but this was the most popular one.

And then3, it was time to head back. We were back in London around 5:00 PM, and I headed back to the hotel for some dinner and an early bed.

That was my last night in London. I need to go back at some point, because there is so much I didn’t get to: Buckingham Palace, the British Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Temple Church, SoHo, Chruchill’s War Bunkers, so many other museums and libraries…

I don’t regret my choices of what I did go and see, though. I had a fantastic time. Well, maybe I would have picked a different day to go to Avebury, one that wasn’t quite so cold and windy and wet. But still.

One last closing note on London: I am in awe of the London Underground. I was a little bit intimidated by it at first, but it is so well organized and labeled that it made getting around very simple. And fast. Really, if you’re going to London, get yourself an Oyster Card and take the tube. So fast and easy.

But now, I’m in Oxford, and need to go hunt up some food. Tonight, I have a Ghost Walk, which I am looking forward to. The sky’s bright and clear right now, so I’m hoping it doesn’t turn as wet as the Ripper Walk did.

Not that rain’s gonna stop me.

  1. That is, me, Frank the guide, Malcolm the driver, 29 other tourists, and two security guards to make sure we didn’t touch the stones. []
  2. As the Romans so often did. []
  3. After I went and got a really tasty ice cream cone from a shop that uses mile from a local dairy. []

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