Saturday, 27 August 2011

Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall

Left for a driving tour of SW England with our friends Sandie and Michael from Norfolk at the ungodly hour of 4.40am. This was a brave attempt to get past London before the morning peak starting at around 7am. More or less successful. The 8-lane motorway only stopped half a dozen times, and not for long, which is apparently very good for a Monday morning.

Our first stop was the stone circle at Avebury, a circle of standing stones around 1km across, and surrounded by a 10-15m ditch with a higher outer mound. There is a second circle inside the first, and a third layout of stones near the middle. The village is located within the outer circle. The circle is thousands of years old, but many of the stones were broken up or buried in the 17th century, for a combination of religious and utilitarian reasons. The buried stones were not rediscovered until excavations and some re-instatement in the 1920s. It is located near Salisbury Hill, a 75m high artificial mound constructed in a number of stages over many hundreds of years.

Anna’s long desire to see a crop circle was realised soon after when we found not one, but four crop circles in the space of 3 or 4 kilometres. All had appeared in the last three days. They were very impressive. The first one we walked in was too hard to pick the pattern at ground level. We could only understand it’s structure from the aerial picture on the internet.

The second was easier. It was maybe 150 metres across with large circles either end, and in the centre. Small circles are around 1.5m across and have a tuft in the centre.

The third we could view by climbing the adjacent hill with a chalk horse. It was a series of 4 circles of increasing diameter arranged in a series of 7 lines radiating from the central design. The fourth we could only see from a distance, and again, we could only see the intricacy of the design from an aerial photo. I think we were lucky that the cool summer in England had delayed the harvest until we arrived back in England.

Laycock is a little18th century timewarp town, a fully functioning film set of 4 main streets and maybe 150 houses where the residents may be invaded by film crews making historical dramas at any time of the day or night. All frontages are controlled to prevent anachronisms, like the antenna cable I saw snaking its way across the roof. What a life. We called in there for a very nice Devonshire Tea, called a Cream Tea in England, even if you are in Devonshire apparently.

We visited Stonehenge in the late afternoon as the rain started. An awesome structure with stones up to 60 tonnes brought from hundreds of miles away. Around 4-5 thousand years old and the most advanced of a succession of henges built on the site. Unfortunately compared to Anna’s last visit, where you could walk amongst the stones, now we can get no nearer than 100m or so. The structure is more impressive as a third of each stone is set into the ground and the horizontal beams are locked in place by ball and socket, and mortise and tenon joints in the stone.

Next day we continued our magical mystery tour by visiting Old Sarum, the ruin of a hilltop fortress with two massive defensive ditches, near Salisbury and dating from the 11th century. Demolished in the 14th century after a dispute between church and state around 1220 led to the cathedral being moved to nearby Salisbury. The cathedral at Salisbury is huge, and was hosting an exhibition of sculptures like the one shown here.

We spent the afternoon in Bath, on the open top bus, and visiting the Roman Baths. The baths are fed from the only natural hot spring in Britain and supported saunas, steam rooms and a number of different pools. It was associated with a large temple complex. The archaeological dig extends under the city and there is apparently still lots left to excavate. The main bath is in reasonable condition, and full of water using the original lead lining. Unfortunately the water is murky green due to algae from the sunlight. Originally the baths were covered by a massive high-domed and richly decorated building which would have prevented algae growth.

We stayed the night at a really comfortable B&B in a renovated dairy. We got to climb the Glastonbury Tor, famous amongst other things for its role in “The Mists of Avalon”, before exploring the alternative culture of Glastonbury. Every second shop is a crystal healing centre or a temple to the godess or selling Celtic jewelery. Quite an amazing place.

We detoured to cross Dartmoor National Park, a wilderness of granite outcrops and heathland, with remnants of neolithic and bronze-age settlements. These include stone circles, round-houses and stone bridges, like this one using three 5m long stones.

We made our way along narrow winding single lane roads, bordered with 2-3m high stone wall and hedges to find our B&B for the night at Veryan on the south Cornwall coast. Our friends graciously let us have the beautifully renovated Roundhouse, with its mezzanine bedroom and downstairs lounge room, while they took the garage, lovingly redecorated as a beach hut.

The Eden Project at Bodelva the next morning. The Eden Project is designed to show the relationship between people and environment, and to look at sustainable living. It is set up in a disused clay quarry, with two massive biomes with tropical and Mediterranean climates. These show plant and human habitats from which much of our food and medicine are derived. We were very surprised to see a fully grown hemp crop, around 2m high, until we got to the other side and found they had a commercial hemp growers licence to grow the low THC variety for fibre. They do a nice line in hemp T-shirts!

We finished the day at the old fishing village of  Mevagissey with a double harbour and lots of pirate history.

Our final day was spent at St Ives on the northern Cornwall coast, one of the nicest places I have seen in England. An artists town, with a branch of the Tate Modern, and lots of studios and some brilliant beaches nearby with progressively less people the further around the bay you get. As with most of the other towns we visited, there is no room for cars or parking in the town, so it’s a park and ride arrangement. This time it was a local train to take us from the carpark about 10km out of town.

We paid for our casual disregard of UK distances by having an eight hour, 660km drive back to Norfolk starting mid-afternoon, with only a few holdups in the Friday afternoon traffic. Thanks so much for a fantastic trip guys, we loved it.

No comments:

Post a Comment