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U.K. Travel Diary – Day 3

April 19, 2011

After our weekend in wonderful London, it was on to the coach to start our trip through the Isles.  On our way out of town, we got an early morning peek at the gardens at Hampton Court Palace, where we entered through Queen Anne’s Gate at the Tudor end of the palace.  We wandered

The Wilderness at Hampton Court

through the Tudor Privy garden, saw the world’s oldest grapevine, and then moved on to the Ornamental Gardens modeled after William and Mary’s time.  The Georgian part of the palace is not as interesting as the Tudor section, being a little too ornate and square for my tastes.

Queen Annes Gate at Hampton Court

My favorite area by far was the Tudor-style “Wilderness” park.  Walking through this open bit of land around where the jousting tiltyards would have been was so much fun.  It’s plush with wild flowers, daffodils in bloom and weeping willows.  It’s easy to imagine how many fascinating Tudor personages trod that same path:  Thomas More, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn…they all lived here at one point in their lives.

Next it was on to Stonehenge, on the Salisbury Plain, which looks surprisingly like… Platte County, Missouri.  Replace the cows with sheep and there is very little difference in the landscape.  Stonehenge is literally in the middle of nowhere – almost surreally lonesome on a

Stonehenge

small hill.  Approaching it is chill-inducing.  It almost looks fake.  The site itself is haphazardly put together – portable, mobile loos and a small ticket window/gift shop are all run by the English Heritage.   There are plans to make a more impressive Visitor’s Entrance and center in the near future.

Once there, you  grab your helpful audio guide and march through a tunnel and up to the site.  Tourists are no longer allowed near the inner circle, but just being nearby is incredible enough.  We were crammed in with a French student group, but on the whole it wasn’t very busy (most Monday mornings probably aren’t).  Stonehenge seems larger than I expected (too much influence from

ancient history comes to life

my movie memories, perhaps) and the very unusual burial mounds in the surrounding countryside are equally as interesting.

One thing I appreciate about England is how there is an unspoken code of civil and decent behavior.  At all the English Heritage sites, including Stonehenge, the Tower and Bath, there are no security guards lurking nearby, no one to stare menacingly at your for breathing on artwork or stepping too close.  At Stonehenge, all that separates you from the monument is a thin rope.  In America, there would no doubt be armed guards and barbed wire 24-7 to prevent lunatics from spray painting themselves blue and hurlilng themselves off the stones.  Here in England, it is just UNDERSTOOD that one does NOT behave in such a fashion.  England, I adore you.

From Stonehenge we traveled to Salisbury through Thomas Hardy’s Wessex.  Sting’s song “Fields of Gold” was written about this rural area with its rolling hills and farmland.   Salisbury Cathedral is the second most important cathedral in England after Canterbury, and its steeple is one of the

Salisbury Cathedral front

tallest in Europe.  Salisbury Cathedral also contains one of only four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, that famous document signed by King John in medieval times to give expanded rights to the barons.

My favorite clause in the Magna Carta:  “Widows shall not be forced to marry should they choose to remain without a husband”.  Amen, medieval barons.  And they say women’s rights was a recent invention.

I’ve walked through the Nelson’s re-creation of a medieval cloister, and now I can say I’ve eaten lunch in a REAL one.  Salisbury as a town and a cathedaral is a marvel.  Built in the 1200s, it is overpoweringly massive, yet the mullioned stained glass windows and carvings are almost delicate.

in front of the gothic magic

Such an incredible experience to walk through the close and look up at such a marvel of spirituality and engineering.  Human ingenuity is boundless.

Next, on to the Georgian city of Bath.  Bath sits on a hilly piece of land and the narrow, winding road into town is about as picturesque as a Dickens novel.  Bath is entirely made out of cream-colored Cotswolds stone.  Even modern buildings must match the original Georgian exteriors, which date from the 1700s.  It was the Regency era nobility that

the Roman Baths from above

made Bath a hot spot again, gathering in its Pump Room next to the Roman Hot Springs to drink the nasty, sulphur-tasting water.

The original Roman Baths, from when the city was called Aqua Sulis in Roman times, have been painstakingly excavated, and beneath the Georgian exterior of the Regency gathering place is a fascinating museum dedicated to a time when Rome ruled supreme and Bath was the vacation spot of patricians.

After viewing various artifcats and re-creations of a living, working Aqua Sulis, you end up at the main baths, which are serene despite the crowds.  If you look up, you can see the remarkable Bath Abbey towering overhead.  Bath is also a reminder that you are in Jane Austen country.  Bath is home to the Jane Austen Museum, and her novels Persuasion and Northanger Abbey are both partially set in Bath.  It’s easy to see why the rich and idle made Bath their favorite playground for so many years.

where Persuasion was set and filmed

Our hotel for the night, the Hilton Bath City, was off the charming river Avon and looked over the bustling city center.

Now for a good night’s sleep before hitting Shakespeare’s birthplace and the Lake District the next day…

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