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Published: September 15th 2010
Episode 6: Salisbury- Stonehenge-Bath-Oxford
(Wednesday Sept 15, 2010)
Hello everyone. We heard that there has been a lot of rain in Southern Australia. Hope our back sun room is not now a pool. The weather here is now mild - as opposed to warm - with evenings getting cool.
We spent a relaxing few days in Brighton, pottering around and not doing too much. On our last night, we were walking down the street and passed an apparent homeless guy, wearing a beanie and wrapped in a blanket. With hand outstretched, he said as we passed:
"Can you spare some change for hair dye? I'm a ginger."
After enduring the obligatory fish ' n' chips by the sea side, we said goodbye to Brighton, to its pier, its beach of large pebbles, its groovy cafes and its drag queens, with names such as Kitty Litter and Ida Slappda. We drove to Salisbury, which is the jumping off point for Stonehenge. Like all English towns, Salisbury has some fine ale houses, such as The Haunch of Venison, where Ross had a beer called "Piston Broke." Also tried a double chocolate Stout, which actually wasn't bad.
Now, Stonehenge....A pile of rocks not worth seeing, or something more? Ross and I enjoyed it, although we paid extra and were able to walk amongst the stone monoliths during early morning, before it opens to the public (you can only normally walk around it at a distance). Stonehenge is some 3000 years old and no one really knows why the prehistoric Britons built it. A purely ceremonial site, perhaps, or some sort of celestial calender: on each month of the year, the sun shines between different pillars, and , on dawn of the Summer solstice, is shines precisely along one axis of aligned stones.
From Stonehenge we moved on to the glorious city of Bath, famous for its hot springs (over which the Romans built an elaborate temple and spa complex), and its beautiful 18th century Georgian architecture. The whole city is a world heritage site. When the Romans invaded, they built the spa complex around 50 AD, which now lies largely beneath the city. The whole place was totally absorbing- we spent over 3 hours there, looking at the ruins, the artifacts, and a cool multi-media display. A highlight was seeing pieces of recovered temple on a wall , to which images of the (presumed) missing pieces were added , finishing with an entire colourful temple as it would have been in Roman times. The hot springs attracted people from all over the ancient Roman empire. Apparently, many people wrote notes on pewter and threw them into the hot springs, in the hope that the gods would answer their questions. Most notes were "curses", in which people sought retribution for stolen items. One of the more amusing curses translates from Latin as follows:
"Domicedes has had his gloves stolen. May the Goddess Minerva find the culprit and see to it that he loses his mind, his eyes and his genitals." A bit harsh for stealing gloves, I thought.
The other aspect to Bath is the grand Georgian architecture, which of course Ross loved. We learnt all about Georgian life, in some wonderfully preserved houses and rooms. Of particular interest was the use of hand held fans by women in those days. The fan was used to convey messages to men in a crowd, in a flirting and amusing language. Holding a fan to the right cheek meant "I like you", holding it the left cheek meant "I don't like you", touching the lips with the fans meant , "I want to be kissed." Touching the,......oh, that's enough.
From Bath we traveled to the university city of Oxford. We celebrated Ross's 50th birthday on September 13 in a Tapas Restaurant, which was good. Oxford has some outstanding pubs, where fresh faced students rub shoulders with red-nosed bar flies, under crooked oak-beamed ceilings. We had cleansing ales at the famous "Eagle and Child", a long thin pub with lots of nooks and crannies. Affectionately known as the Bird and Baby, it dates from 1650 ! It was a favourite watering hole of J.R.R.Tolkein, C.S.Lewis, Grahame Green and other writers. Calling themselves "The Inklings", they apparently spent many an hour drinking and conversing in the Rabbit Room of the pub, a small antechamber where we also drank. Another great pub is the Turf Tavern. We did not drink there (hell, we had to do some sight seeing!) . This pub is tucked away down a tiny lane. It was here that one Bob Hawke, while studying at Oxford in 1963, entered the Guinness book of world records for downing a yard glass (= 2.5 pints) in 11 seconds.
We visited the Oxford University Museum of Natural History - which was great - BUT, attached to it is the Pitt Rivers Museum of Anthropology. It was simply amazing - one of the best museums I have ever seen. It is jam-packed with all sorts of curiosities and artifacts from cultures around the world. Over 100, 000 items are displayed in glass cases on three levels, from spears, guns, masks and harpoons, to voodoo dolls, shrunken heads and totem poles. Much of it was amassed in Victorian times by the museum's namesake, Pitt Rivers, and others donated by Victorian adventurers. The whole place is dimly lit, which adds to the atmosphere. (Glenn, have you been here ?) The philosophy of the place is that there is no start nor end, and no voluminous notes - you just wander where your curiosity takes you. Highly enjoyable and highly recommended.
A short drive from Oxford is Blenheim Palace - yet another World Heritage site. This joint was built for the Duke of Malborough (1702-1730) for winning lots of bully boy battles. Well, it was magnificent, both outside and in (esp. the Long Library room - has to be seen to be believed). Ross swooned.
During our travels around England, we seem to meet characters that have stepped straight off the set of familiar TV shows. Hence, I'm sure we had breakfast this morning with Hyacinth Bucket and her hen-pecked husband, while, last night in the local pub, we encountered the entire cast of The Vicar of Dibley, including that old guy who says:
"No, no, no, no, no, no, no......yes."
Only about one and a half weeks left now. I'm holding out for seeing some wildlife (badgers tomorrow evening). I've seen six already...... but all were dead balls of black, white and grey fur by the roadside.
Craig (and Ross)
P.S. . Sorry for the length of these blogs, but they are as much a record for my own purposes as they are a travel diary for others to read.
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