Saturday, September 10, 2005

Stonehenge and Bath

The Price's hit London!!

The arrival of my mum, stepfather Shane, and youngest brother Jay has been something that i've been waiting for since we left Brisbane last year - I always wanted then to visit while we are over here, to see where we'd been living and to experienced what we'd been doing while living and working in London.. The time had finally arrived.

I had already seen them for a quick hello at Heathrow last week, while they were in transit between Australia and Ireland. But this time they'd returned to England for a two week stay, including a week driving aroung England and Scotland, and week in London with us. We collected them from Heathrow late on Friday night after they had spent a week in Ireland with Mike and Bec, and drove back to West Kensington in a hire car i'd just picked up for a planned trip to Bath & Stonehenge the following day.

After having a very late night catching up with everything that had been happenning and all the stories from their trip to see Mike & Bec in Ireland, and getting them settled into our cosy lounge room come visitors quarters, we woke up very early on Saturday and piled into the hire car to head into The West along the M4.

My obsession with stone circles continues, this time with the long-awaited visit to the big one - Stonehenge.

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Jay and I pointing out the Stones for a photo to send to Jenny Smith back in Brisbane; plus some great panoramic photos I took of the site

None of us knew what to expect, having only seen pictures and not really able to predict what the scale of the arrangement would be like. As we were travelling on the road approaching the site, we crested a hill and all of a sudden there it was, right next to the main road of the area!

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Me, mum, Carly, and Jay; and Me and Carly

We went into the fenced-off site and walked around the stones, listening to the provided audioguide which explained some interesting things about the arrangement, theories on why it was built, and also some details I found interesting about how the stones are layed on each other, the construction methods for arranging the massive stones, and how they remain locked into place to this day because of techniques akin to mortice and tenon joints.
Apparently this area contains the most stone monuments of this type in the UK, and from the site you can see proof of this with ancient burial mounds dotted across the surrounding fields and along the horizon. Although you don't need much time to see the site and take a good look at it all, the visit was definitely worth it and well recommended to anyone visiting here. I think all of us walked away very impressed and also interested in the mystery of the whole place.

Next we headed to the town of Bath, to visit the Roman ruins and natural spring baths in the centre of the town, and to visit what is one of the most beautiful town centres i've seen so far. After circuling the town looking for a car park (this proved why public transport is so much easier when day tripping!), we left our hired Ford Focus (lovely car I might add!) and had a picnic lunch by the river, while watching the canal boat holiday makers slowly travelling through town. After our early lunch we headed into the main streets of town and straight up to the Roman Baths complex, adjacent to the striking Bath Cathedral


Shane out front of the entrance to the Roman Baths

The Baths complex was facinating. And even having been to Rome and seen ruins of similar styles of buildings and temples, this place was brilliant to say the least. Right smack in the centre of the town, the Baths are fed off of a natural spring which bubbles up into the Sacred Spring pool at a constant tempurature of 46 degrees, and then feeds down into the main pool via the same stone channel system it has been flowing on since the mighty Romans were there in 2nd Century AD. Around the main pool, much of the original walls were still visable, but a lot of it had been modified and added to in more recent times, such as the original roof structure which had long gone. With the warm water still trickling into it, and the knowledge that the Roman-built lead lining at the bottom of the pool remains intact to this day, it was still very impressive nonetheless. As well as the main pool, the surrounding steam/sauna rooms are all still there, and with the floors removed these days you can see how they heated the rooms and generated the steam via ducting in the floor.. Just brilliant stuff to see when you contemplate the age of it all.

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Jay & mum above the main Baths pool; (right) the adjacent Cathedral towering over the pool

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Me and Carly in front of the main Baths pool

The whole complex was once huge, and ruins from a temple complex surrounding the baths are still visable as you journeyed down into parts of the facility that have been excavated, all of which is now set up as a very impressive National Heritage museum. Apparently the whole Baths complex probably stretches beneath the surrounding town centre and adjacent Cathedral buildings, but because of moderm progress it will probably remain buried there. Mum didn't stop snapping the camera as she went through the displays.. she was just so impressed to be seeing the ruins and the remnants of something so old, that was still working as it was back then. It really did give us all an impressive indication and feeling of what it must have been like to be there in the Roman days. Brother Michael had been here years ago as part of his first trip to the UK, and since then we'd all been anticipating seeing what he'd raved about.
At the end of our tour through the baths we went up into the Pump Room restuarant above the Baths, to sample a glass of the warm spring water - even though I finished the glass out of principle, I can't say i'd be buying it off the shelves at Tesco!

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Carly, me & Jay in one of the streets of Bath; (right) a bridge over river in Bath, and an impressive staggered wier next to one of the locks in the river

We then headed out into the town centre for a stroll throught the streets. The buildings in this town were some of the best I'd seen in a town centre so far in England. The squares were not hugem but the space was well used and although the tourist crowds were obvious, there was still a local feel to it as you got into the many laneways and discovered small butchers, market stalls, and plenty of small 'hole in the wall' pubs only the locals would know about.

We grabbed some pies and pasty's for afternoon tea on the go, and continued to walk along the river, around which time we were almost run over by the masses of locals leaving the weekends home team Rugby match on the nearby field. We slowly headed back to the car, and then after a very slow drive to get out of town, we made or way to a nearby village we'd been told about - Castle Combe.

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Jay, mum, Shane & me in the main square of Castle Combe; and the view down the main street of this beautiful village

This very traditional village was the best one that Carly and I had seen, and even impressed the tourists we were with who had just spent a week touring Ireland. The old village church dated back to the 1100's, and you could tell that effort had been made to ensure the streets had been kept free of commercial signage, and minimal signs of any modernisation. Everything that you'd expect in a typical English village was here - the town square, complete with a wedding of a few locals in the church just before we drove into town; the large manor houses and estates surrounding the outskirts of the village; a small creek or brook widing through the lower part of the town and beneath a small narrow bridge carrying the 'main' road, and the original tiled or thatched roofs and brickwork and rendering on the buildings - all very impressive.

On the advice of family friends who had told us to drop by Castle Combe for a look, we stopped in at the cosy pub for a cheeky drink, before heading back to the car and our journey back into the big City on the very busy and rain-soaked M4 motorway.

After dropping everyone off at home, Jay and I then took the car back out to the hire car place at Heathrow, and then to get us back to Barons Court, Jay had his much anticipated first ride on the London Underground, courtesy of the filthiest, uncleaned, grubbiest Piccadilly Line train that could be provided - so we picked up the nearest 2nd-hand newspaper and made the most of our 40 minute trip back home after a long day. Despite all this I think he still loved it!

While it was a very long day, it was definitely our best day-trip so far, and will be hard to top.

-shane

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