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Published: January 13th 2009
Bath and Stonehenge
My birthday weekend saw us head north ...
Given the freezing temperature (not exaggerating!), the first chore before leaving was to de-ice the car so that we could actually see..... Never had to do that before! Dav poured water over the windscreen, which worked a treat.... although we weren't quick enough with the windscreen wipers and that water then just froze as well!! And so I had a go with the icescraper - an instrument that works a treat but one that hopefully I won't have much to do with after the next couple of years! I don't fancy having to scrape the ice of my car every morning... I prefer the Australian way - burning my fingers on the steering wheel thank you very much!
And so we began the two hour trek north, skirting around the city of Bristol, before heading east towards Bath. As we drove along, we became increasingly mesmerised as the scenery around us changed from a heavily fogged motorway to a frost-laiden winter wonderland!
Caught up in the excitement, we pulled
over into a side lane and left the warm comfort of the car to experience the beauty a little closer, complete with snow/ice ball fight! Still not sure if it was snow or just really heavy frost, but either way it was just so so gorgeous and was worth the 2 hour trip just to experience that! The Roman Baths
Arriving in Bath, we headed off to check out their namesake - the Roman Baths. After getting in for half price (we are the champions of finding cheaper ways to do things!), we set off. We were supplied with our own personal audio guides, with which we were able to select both factual information as well as more informal speils by comedy travel author Bill Bryson (or even the children's activities if we were so inclinded!) And it was so interesting.... and so old! I walked around like a sponge, trying to soak up as much information as I could.
What an incredible set up. The Romans, although thousands of years ago, really had the right
idea of how to live life. After a hard day's work, they would all retire to the bath house for a few hours. Here they were first massaged down with oils and literally 'scraped' clean, before relaxing in the 46.5 degree
waters. They could then alternate between a cooling dip in the colder pools, sitting in the steam rooms, or perhaps another massage.... Sounds a bit like an expensive outing to a beauty day spa - and they did it everyday! And yet we are told that civilisation has progressed?!
So a little bit about the spring and how it came to be a bath ....
Water from hills nearby trickles down through the limestone earth to approx 3km below the crust, where it is heated by geothermal energy. The hot water then rises back up through the limestone at a rate of just over 1 million litres a day!
While the actual bath is what all the fuss is about these days, the spring has been a source of human fascination for thousands of years, with tools found that date back 7,500
years! The Romans built the bathing complex in early AD times (65-75 AD), with a stone reserviour built to collect the spring water. From this reserviour (now known as the Sacred Spring) the water is fed through lead pipes into the bathing area (it is these lead pipes, still in use from when they were originally laid, which makes the water unsuitable for swimming, and especially drinking). From the bath, the water then drains into the nearby river Avon. The Sacred Spring, producing this warm and highly mineralised water, was a mystical and powerful place, with people coming from miles around to pray to the goddess of water, or to sit in the 'healing' waters.
Probably the two features I was most fascinated with, were the roof and the heating. The original bathing complex was quite different to what we see today (more details below), with the actual bath room not being open to the elements, but instead enclosed by a massive arched roof. This was an incredible feat, and once again highlighted their being ahead of their time, as they used hollowed out stones so as to reduce the weight of the roof, allowing
it to span the huge area it did.
Hypocaust (translation: heat from below), the system of underfloor heating they they used, was also incredibly clever. The floors of the rooms in the complex were all raised above the ground on pillars, which allowed hot air and smoke to heat the rooms to a constant warm temperature. Gotta be comfortable when you're having that massage!
Back to the history.... Incredibly, after the Romans left Britain, the bathing complex was left to deteriorate, with the structures crumbling over time and and the roof collapsing. And most amazingly, it was only re-discovered about 150 years ago,
by accident, when a dwelling built on top of the area was having continual problems with seeping water....! Investigation uncovered the remanants of the builings, and the bath was restored. The Victorians then added on the columns and walls around the bath, making it as we see it today.
Given the lag time between the demise of the bath and surrounding buildings, and their subsequent re-discovery, archeologists predict there are many more hidden treasures beneath the surface, although they are hindered
by the buildings currently built on the surrounding land. And they say that it is an ongoing discovery, with more excavations planned for the future... Pretty fascinating to think what else they may uncover...
Leaving the lovely town of Bath, we headed off to visit that big group of rocks that everyone talks about - Stonehenge (not the 'Stonehedge
' i thought it was until a few years ago ... it could work.... bit more of a literal translation perhaps but who's ever heard of a 'henge'...?)
Pulling up, we had only 25 mins before it shut for the day so we grabbed our personal audio guides and scooted through the underpass. Now I know I describe the weather a fair bit (describe... complain...), this was absolutely the coldest I have ever been. Dav and I speed-walked around the magnificent feature, our hands, toes, noses, ears, and all other extremities quickly turning black as frostbite set in. The big positive of the freezing temperatures was the absolutely stunning atmophere we were presented with.
Frost/ice/snow (who knows - some variety of cold wet stuff) blanketed the grass and the whole area had such a mystical feeling, although I've heard that this is common regardless of the weather.
Amazing to think that some of these 7 tonne rocks were transported to that very spot 4,000 years ago from nearly 240 miles away... They think that from the Preselli mountains in south-west Wales, these massive stones were somehow dragged down to the water on rollers and sleighs, floated on rafts along the Wales coastline, then up the rivers Avon and Frome, before being dragged once again over land, floated once more, and then finally ending up at their current resting spot. There they were then arranged in the familiar circle layout. More stones were then added some 2,000 years later. Although these stone came from only 25 miles north, the largest of these was 50 tonnes, making water transport impossible. They think that instead the stones were moved using sleighs and ropes, with estimates of 500 men needed to pull one stone (with leather ropes) and another 100 men to continually lay the huge rollers in its path. And for what
purpose? They still don't really know why all this effort was made..... (Boredom?) But they do know that the layout of the rocks is very deliberate, the angles and distances, with certain alignments corresponding to changes in seasons, etc.... (cue X files music...)
All in all our flying trip to Stonehenge was fantastic and although I didn't get the shot I was after with the sun setting in the distance (silly me.... you have to be able to see the sun to get a sunset..) it was a fantastically beautiful fitting to a fantastic day!
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