Saturday, January 26, 2008

Euro Day 4: Old Stones and Cricket

Wednesday, July 4, 2007 and the Salisbury morning brings bright Sun and warm breezes. After one last Rokeby House breakfast, we bid our hosts, Karen and Mark, a smiling farewell and drove a few kilometers into the town center. I will note for the record that Dee declined the car keys for this short journey.

We were set on visiting Salisbury Cathedral. After a short stroll through quiet, narrow streets, we passed through the ancient arch and stood at the edge of the green space that skirts this, the tallest spire in the UK.

The free tour inside was led by our newest friend, Peter. A retired military man, Peter was the very model of a modern Major-General - and his knowledge of the Cathedral's history and architecture is vast. For 90 minutes he kept us all spellbound (even the kids!) with his stories and attention to detail. While there were so many highlights during this tour, seeing an original copy of the Magna Carta and the world's oldest working medieval clock are a few that stood out for me. It was only later that we learned the typical tour is scheduled to last only 45 minutes, and we appreciated Peter's lessons all the more.

With our time Salisbury coming to an end, our goal for the rest of the day was to meander our way towards Bath, taking in a few sights along the way. Our first stop - Old Sarum - which is the original site of what is now Salisbury. All that is left on that emerald-coloured windswept hill are the foundations of what once was. When the local populace decided to bug out in the early 1200's, they took whatever building materials they could, and moved them a few miles south to the town's present location.

After a good hour's worth of exploration at Old Sarum, we piled back into Blue Passat for the short drive to Stonehenge. Driving on the Salisbury Plain must be one of the more relaxing and idyllic trips one could make on a sunny day. Miles of green, undulating hills give way to spectacular vistas - always at just the right moment. Soon enough we were there - in the middle of nowhere in particular - amid the ancient stones of Stonehenge. While perhaps a little bit more commercialized since my first visit some 20-odd years previous, not much had changed around the site. The open fields, curious sheep, and low-key trickle of visitors were largely how I remembered things. I liked that visitors were now issued a device that provided an audio tour of the site (a feature common at many tourist destinations in England, so it seems). One big difference was the show of military force this time as compared to the 'hippie riots' that had punctuated my last visit.

After an hour or so of looking around and lunching on ice cream and scones, it was time to push on towards Bath - our next base of operations. Our actual destination was the village of Bathford on the outskirts of Bath - home to our next B&B, Eagle House. We'll explore the village of Bathford in another post, but suffice to say that it is ancient and makes liberal use of stone. Eagle House, some 250 years old, is magnificent with its stonework, gardens, and 12-foot ceilings. Certainly there was a different 'feel' than Rokeby House, and we knew we'd enjoy our stay.

After a bit of settling in, we decided it was time to dip our toes into Bath (yes, bad pun). While our guidebook suggested otherwise, we decided we might drive ourselves into town. John, our host, gave us excellent directions that would get us into the heart of town while avoiding the typical tourist congestion. The drive was not bad, although we got lost for a bit in the busy traffic. But soon enough we were in a public car-park at the Bath Cricket Grounds. This was a tip from John - not many people know that the car-park exists, and we had no trouble finding a spot for Blue Passat. As a bonus, some cricketers(?) were on the pitch holding a practise, and we spent a few minutes watching this very odd sport!

Expectedly, Bath is old and constructed largely of stone. After some 'roadhouse faire' at a restaurant in the central area of Bath, our plan for this evening was to avoid any real sightseeing. Rather, we intended to to sign on to watch a bit of street theater known as Bizarre Bath - which had run across during our Internet research. So, we found the pub at the appointed meeting time and paid our pounds. The one-man show did not disappoint. The best way to describe it is 'street theater meets Monty Python'. While it offers no historical education, we did get to spend 2 hours walking through central Bath being thoroughly entertained. Mind you, if you pale at the idea of a magic trick involving a rabbit named Stuart, a rucksack, and the River Avon, then perhaps you'd be better off to skip Bizarre Bath. My family, however, loved it.

The tour wrapped up at 10pm, and so it was time to find our way back to Bathford. Driving the twisting roads in the dark was not so bad, but I made a note to avoid doing it again. And so, a busy day came to an end inside the old, stone walls of Eagle House. Tomorrow, we would tour Bath properly.