03.08.2010 - 04.08.2010
On Tuesday morning we left Brockenhurst for Bath Spa. The city was built by the Romans almost two thousand years ago and Roman-philes and the idly curious are still flocking here to see the well-known Roman baths. After hanging out in the serene New Forest, Bath was a bastion of chaos. Here are the throngs of tourists milling around the old cathedral and the baths:
The ornamentation on the cathedral was a bit odd, these angel-type creatures are crawling up a stone ladder. Sadly (or not), I'm not up on my religious iconography:
Joining the other four million people a year who come to Bath for its European heritage, A. and I got in line and filed our way into the Roman baths. It is the only hot spring in England. Originally, the location was a Celtic shrine dedicated to the goddess Sulis (who the Romans identified with Minerva). The name Sulis continued to be used after the Roman invasion, leading to the town's Roman name of Aquae Sulis (literally, "the waters of Sulis"):
We saw this funny elephant:
And this much more impressive gorgon:
Traditionally female this gorgon may have been some amalgamation with the image of Neptune.
After the Roman Baths, A. and I wandered the streets for a few hours until exhaustion set in. A. was craving Wallace and Gromit, for those who don't know it is a popular (and hilarious) children's TV show. We went into a video store and asked for it with our Canadian accents. It's so incredibly stereotypically English, like crumpets and the queen. The store clerk smirked in a very British way, head tilted downwards and eyebrow raised. Perhaps it would be like asking for hockey night in Canada reruns. Sadly, while they did have it they weren't open early enough the next day for us to get our deposit back so instead we settled for Robin Hood borrowed from the b & b.
The next day we set off for Salisbury and arrived midday. We were staying in a really beautiful b & b where we could see the spire of the Cathedral. Among other things, this cathedral's claim to fame is that it holds the record for the tallest church spire in the UK. Not only is the foundation absurdly shallow but it is also embedded in chalky soil. Unsurprisingly, the spire has begun to lean significantly (2.5 ft), you can sort of see it in this picture:
After walking through the quaint medieval streets we took a tour bus to Stonehenge. The bus stopped at Old Sarum, the site of the earliest settlement in Salisbury and home to a (very) ruined castle from 1069 AD. The site was in pretty bad disrepair, even the vivid descriptions and squinting didn't really get me there. Plus it was cold, hardly August weather:
So we tasted jams and elderberry port in the gift shop and then sat by the side of the road waiting for the next bus:
The truth is I didn't think I'd be that impressed with Stonehenge. Don't get me wrong, I am easily seduced by ancient things and I can be wowed by the grandeur of that kind of construction. But people warned me it was a tourist trap and a bit of a disappointment because you can't go right up to the rocks. Both of those are probably true. Nonetheless, there really is something captivating about the site. When we arrived there were big and dark clouds looming heavily in the sky:
The stones are huge and many weigh between 20-50 tons each (as a comparison one double decker bus weighs 7 tons). You are forced to contemplate how the builders could have possibly transported and erected these stones so many thousands of years ago (between 3100-1600 BC). The bluestones (from 2600 BC) are believed to be from as far as 250 kms away in South West Wales.
There are over 90 different kinds of lichen growing on the stones and the birds like them too:
We walked around sort of slack jawed with all the other tourists (there could have been more) plugged into audio tours and clicking pictures. By the time we made it all around the circle the sky was clear blue and sunny, like the old British joke: Don't like the weather? Wait five minutes:
We slept in on Thursday, lazing around and enjoying the beautiful room before heading off to our final UK destination. A. and I are now in London (that update to follow) which is the climax of this portion of the adventure.