Doing The Tourist Thing

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June 21st 2009
Published: June 26th 2009
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And Loving Every Minute!!!

After a much more comfortable train ride to Salisbury I head for the main attraction of the town... Salisbury Cathedral. With Britain's tallest spire at over 120m, it was built in the 13th Century and miraculously survived the bombings of WWII unscathed. Later on, after talking to German pilots, it was revealed that they were under strict orders not to touch the Cathedral, as they used the spire as a landmark to guide themselves to other towns after flying over the Channel. What makes this particular Cathedral important though is it houses the best preserved of the four remaining copies of the Magna Carta, the document that almost all democratic constitutions in the world are based on. It dealt with things such as freedom for the church, trial by jury and issues between the King and his Barons. Ratified by King John in 1215 it is the foundation of human rights as we know it.

Salisbury is a charming town with rivers running through it and quaint buildings on every lane. The land and watercourses are the reason the town exists where it is today at all. Before the Normans invaded, there was a Roman fort called Old Sarum about 10km North of the present town with a town and Cathedral of it's own. When the Normans arrived and took over the fort, it was decided to move the town down to it's current position due to the availability of fresh water and so the stones of the old Cathedral were used in the building of the new one and the fort was abandoned. An impressive amount of earthworks remain at Old Sarum to be wandered around and it certainly gives the impression of a well defended fort.

The next morning saw me jumping on the local tour bus and heading for the biggest draw card of Southern England..... Stonehenge!!! If your ever in this part of the world, make sure you do this tour. For under 18 pounds it included a commentated bus (with everything you need to know about the attractions and the area in general) to Stonehenge and back (also stopping at Old Sarum on the return), priority entry into both Stonehenge and Old Sarum, and was able to be used at your leisure in a 24 hour period. This meant that you weren't rushed through like the other tour groups and could take your time and really enjoy the marvels.

Stonehenge itself is overwhelming!!! For whatever purpose they were raised, it is equally if not more impressive today. The original stones date back to nearly 3000BC with some weighing over twenty tonnes. The inner, smaller stones are different and would have been brought from Southern Wales, a journey of over 200km. What's really amazing is the fact that evidence has proven the existence of an even earlier wooden structure dating back around 7200 years.

That afternoon I was off again, this time to Bath. It's said that "If you only see one city outside of London in England, then make it Bath" and I can see why!!! With it's royal buildings, fantastic architecture and of course the Roman Baths, you can see why the entire city is named on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.

Off and running, I hit Bath Abbey straight away, with it's long royal history and it's gothic architecture. This is the site that in 973AD, the first effective King of England was crowned, King Edgar. The Norman Cathedral was ruined in the late 15th Century and the current Abbey was founded to take it's place. It displays the tablet for Isaac Pitman (the inventor of Pitman Shorthand) as well as an Australian flag above a tablet for Admiral Arthur Phillip who founded Australia's first penal settlement and become the first Governor of New South Wales. Queen Elizabeth II even graced it's doors in 1973 to commemorate the 1000 years since the coronation of England's first King.

Right next door to the Abbey is the infamous Roman Baths. Dating back to the 1st Century, it was a grand building used for the relaxation and business dealings of all in the time. From farmers to soldiers and all in between, the baths were open for all to use and would have been an extravagant sight to behold in the time. Consisting of a natural hot spring that continuously comes up at 47 degrees, the main bathing pool, cold plunge pools, warm relaxing pools, steam rooms, a temple and an elaborate system for heating floors and walls, as well as an intricate means of maintaining water levels with run-offs and sluice gates. The original complex is still being being excavated and the size is still unknown but in the 1800's the baths were reconstructed and put back into use until the 1970's. It was said that the water had healing properties that could cure everything from the cold to leprosy depending on how much you drank and how often you bathed in it.

The next morning I decided on a walk to see the Royal Crescent, a crescent shaped building overlooking a park that used to be the residence of royalty when the baths were reconstructed, and Queen Victoria Park. In the early morning air, the park was amazing with a light mist in the distance making everything look greener than possible. The perfect place to while away a couple of hours before I was off to Bristol.

“Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” - Miriam Beard

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