England part 3
Today we are taking our second tour with Steve of Sho4 tours. Steve arrives at the designated pickup time but he is driving a different van. It seems that Steve’s’ van threw a belt yesterday and it is in the shop for repairs today. The problem with the van he has rented from a fellow tour operator is that there is no microphone to help those of us sitting in the back hear Steve’s’ commentary. This van also has a backwards facing seat, so two people in our group will be looking out the back window on today’s tour. After discussing what the advantage of a backwards seat is among us and coming up with no good reason, we ask Steve about this arrangement. Steve tells us the facing seats are nicknamed businessmen seats as businessmen want to face each other and conduct business as they are being driven to airports, hotels or where ever. I guess that makes sense but it sure isn’t very convenient for people who are sightseeing!
Steve takes us to an area called Woodhenge and we walk among the squat stone pillars that mark where tall wooden poles originally stood. The site sits atop a grassy windswept hill, where lovely yellow flowers sway in the breeze. Steve points in the direction of Stonehenge, about two miles away, and tells us that some theorize that Woodhenge was built in relation to Stonehenge.
Woodhenge was discovered in 1925 when a pattern of dark circles were seen in an aerial photo. The archaeological workers determined that Woodhenge dates back to 2500 B.C. (if you can fathom that date). Workers also found pieces of pottery, stone tools, plus human and animal bones.
Once we are loaded in the van, Steve drives the back roads to Stonehenge to avoid the traffic congestion of the main highway to Stonehenge. Once the van is parked, we proceed to the entrance gate where Paul buys tickets for the five of us. Steve will wait in his van for our return. Each of us receives a telephone like device which is our electronic guide once we reach Stonehenge. We then load up on one of the many buses that are shuttling tourists to the World Heritage site.
After a few minutes we reach the famous Stonehenge and begin our self-guided tour. I must admit I was expecting Stonehenge to sprawl over a much larger area so I am taken aback to see the behemoth rocks quite crowded together on the hilltop. Tourists are not allowed to walk among the rock structures and a rope barrier encircles the site. This works quite well as sightseers are directed in a circle around Stonehenge, where they stop at numbered markers to listen to the information on their devices. The barrier is far enough back from Stonehenge that it keeps us tourists spread out and I am surprised at how many of my photos only show a few people and amazingly a few of my photos are completely devoid of humans.
As I listen to my recorded guide I learn that Stonehenge evolved over thousands of years. Stonehenge is thought to have been a sacred site for natives beginning around the same time as Woodhenge and may have even had a similar structure out of wood at that time. The rock formations we are looking at today began to be built four or five thousand years ago. The largest stones that were planted upright weigh some 25 tons and are thought to have been brought from 20 miles away. How in the world did these people manage to move such massive rocks over rough terrain when they hadn’t invented the wheel yet? Maybe a better question is why did they go to so much trouble? Nobody really knows but the theories abound, from aliens to a sacred cemetery. Well, if this is a cemetery those are the most gigantic headstones I’ve ever seen.
Paul and I beat the sisters back to the headquarters and go to the museum to look at the artifacts and exhibits. Because your entrance ticket also admits you to the museum, Paul and I make a quick tour of the small museum because Paul has everyone’s tickets! We exit the museum to wait for his sisters only to see them emerge from the museum. We find out later that they talked the woman who is checking tickets to let them in without their tickets! I never did find out who the smooth talker was.
As we are walking back to the van, a buzzing noise goes off and it appears to be coming from Lois. Everyone looks at Lois and we see what is making the buzzing sound, Lois is still carrying her electronic guide. Lois must feel that she is on trial as it seems we all ask her at once why she didn’t turn the device in. Lois pleads her case and tells us the person collecting the machines from tourists insists that the gadget belongs to our guide because there is no tag on it and refuses to take it from her. After hearing Lois’ alibi, we declare her innocent and Paul returns to the ticket area to give the machine back. Evidently someone just forgot to put a tag on the machine.
Steve drives us to Salisbury Cathedral which is evidently the “must see” Cathedral in Great Britain. We arrive only to be told that we won’t be able to enter the interior of the cathedral because a memorial service is being held. This is a bit of a letdown. We are still able to see the beautiful cloister as we walk to the Magna Carta exhibit housed in the Chapter House. As we stand in line to see the old document, I marvel at the vaulted ceiling, the carvings and the stained glass windows, Chapter House. I can only imagine what the grandeur of the church must be like when this small room is so magnificent.
After lunch, which we eat at the cathedral cafeteria, Paul and I walk around the outside of Salisbury Cathedral. As you can imagine it is magnificent with all the carved stone, arches, flying buttresses (Paul pointed these out to me and told me the name of them) plus Salisbury Cathedral has the tallest spire in England. I believe this, because my neck hurts when I bend back to look to the top of the spire. There is another reason I am studying the spire so intently though, Steve has informed us that a pair of peregrine falcons are nesting near the top of the spire and often the male can be seen perching or flying around the spire. I canvas the area with my binoculars but have no luck in seeing the small falcon.
As we are walking back to the van, Paul and I hear someone clapping their hands loudly and giving short whistles. We look around and find that it is Steve. He sees that he has attracted our attention and points up at the sky. We look up just in time to see a peregrine falcon fly over us and then disappear quickly from sight. Man those birds can fly fast. Hurray, a great sendoff from Salisbury Cathedral.
Our last stop for the day is New Forest; an ironic name considering this place had its beginnings in 1079 when some Royal bigwig wanted a hunting area. I had hoped we would be able to take a hike here and do a little birding. However, we have driven a lot of miles and time is slipping away so our hike lasts about 20 minutes. I spend half of that time standing in one spot trying to get a look at some of the various birds that were singing, but I never could find any of the little buggers.
It is a pretty forest, though it is a bit odd to find giant redwoods that were brought from California growing in one section of the forest. As we drive out of the forest area and onto treeless plains above New Forest, we begin to see a scattering of horses and a few cattle grazing the grass. Steve had explained to us that anyone has the right to bring their animals here and let them graze for the summer, (perhaps that right is just for the people of this area). I did read that the practice to allow the residents to graze their animals in New Forest started back at the beginning of the park, in those times the residents were known as “commoners”! My own personal observation is that summer has barely begun and the grass already appears to be grubbed out. I also ask myself if you own a horse, isn’t summertime when you would ride that animal the most? Hmm.
Steve delivers us back to the apartment where he says goodbye to Doris, Lois, and Joy. Paul and I will see him again as Steve will be driving us to Luton airport early Wednesday morning for our flight to Romania. We all thank him for showing us some wonderful parts of England, taking us off the beaten track and being such an informative and fun guide.
Tonight we decide to order dinner in from an Indian restaurant which the owners of this apartment recommended to Doris. They have a menu in the kitchen from the restaurant and we place our order with Doris who calls in our requests. When the food arrives, I go downstairs with Doris to help her carry up the food. Doris hands the young man the money we owe him for the food, but the total turns out to be less than what we had calculated. I’m not sure how much extra money we ended up with, but Doris hands it to the polite young man and tells him “this is for you”. The smile that lights up this young fellows face when he accepts the tip money made we food fetchers grin too. I have a feeling getting a few extra pounds for delivering restaurant fare isn’t something that happens very often. The food was delicious by the way.
Today is Joy, Paul and my final day in England and to end this Miller reunion we are going for a hike around the village of North Leach. Lois takes the wheel of the car once more and we proceed without incident to the picturesque town of North Leach. Once Paul and I polish off the yummy roll we bought at the local bakery, the five of us, prepare to follow the directions for the trail described in the book “Short walks in the Cotswolds”, and we set off on the 4 mile hike.
We walk through North Leach, cross the highway and find the gate that gives us access to the pasture. We cross the lush pasture, pass through another gate which leads us into a field of some kind of grain that Paul and I are unable to identify. There is an actual path in the middle of this field for us to walk on! The vista is just breathtaking at this point as the canola field in the distance is half in shadow and half in sunlight and the yellow field is framed by the dark green of fields around it. As the book promises, the path leads us to the delightful settlement of Hampnet. After we take a few group photos on the inviting wooden bench, we visit the pretty church that sits in the middle of the dozen or so houses that make up Hampnet. I find it amazing that no matter how small the village, there always is a lovely stone church gracing them.
Once we leave the church Paul reads us the next set of directions from the book. Since Paul brought the book home I will copy the next paragraph of directions we are to follow word for word.”Leave the church and return down the track. Cross the river and turn left, uphill, at the junction. Pass through a gate halfway up the hill and go straight on at the road. Follow the right-hand field boundaries to the next road”. Did you get that?
Well actually we thought we did except we never saw a river on our way here. We go back the way we came, find a gate halfway up the hill, there is a road between two fields, and we continue hiking. The landscape unfolding behind us is just breathtaking and our cameras are put to use. Following the next set of directions we turn left at the road, etc. until we cross the main road where we are to find the next path. Well we can’t find the darn footpath sign so we walk on in hopes that we just haven’t reached it yet.
We stroll by a stone fence that is being rebuilt and Paul can’t resist placing a few rocks on the fence. We continue walking but we are not finding the things described in the book like, “you will pass by farm buildings”. Oh nuts, looks like we are misplaced again. Joy suggested I should use the word misplaced instead of lost because In Joy’s words, more or less,” we know where we are, and we just are taking a different route that can lead to new discoveries, nice people and who knows what”. I like that philosophy!
We finally decide to walk along a wheat field that takes us back in the direction of North Leach, where we actually do end up walking through a farmstead, and then we come to the highway which leads us back to North Leach.
After we have eaten we walk around North Leach looking at the old stone buildings and marveling once again at a few houses whose roofs’ are stone tiles. We have seen houses with stone tile roofs just about everywhere, even in Oxford, and it boggles my mind to think of the weight of a stone roof! We also visit the St. Peter and St. Paul church where a very friendly young woman is on hand to answer any questions you have. As with all the churches we have visited, this one is just gorgeous inside.
Before leaving North Leach we visit the butcher shop out of curiosity plus they also sell cheese and we need more cheese for our cocktail hour this evening. As you might expect, the items for sale in this family run shop have different names than what you will find in the meat section of our stores in the states. To name a few of the products, there are Gammon hocks, Rolled breast (in the pork section), and Plain Streaky Bacon. Once the cheese purchase is completed, Paul and I go back to the bakery and buy a couple of more goodies for our early morning breakfast tomorrow.
Lois drives us back to Oxford and this time we take the correct turn at the roundabout to get us to Summerville. Saturday we took the wrong exit on the roundabout and were misplaced for a while but eventually we made it back to our apartment:). We enjoy our cheese with wine, eat leftovers for dinner and watch another slide show of beautiful photos accompanied with interesting stories. Paul and I say goodbye to everyone tonight, as we are leaving very early for the airport, and it makes no sense for Doris, Lois, and Joy to get up to see us off at 5:30 a.m.
Today was a great way to end our stay in England. We were walking in beautiful surroundings, enjoying each other’s company, and eating good food. What more can you ask? So this ends our visit to England and tomorrow Paul and I will fly to Romania. Joy flies off to Africa later tomorrow, and in a couple of days Lois goes to Italy, while Doris makes her way to Spain. I told you this Miller family were die-hard travelers! Later, Nancy