The morning we set off for Salisbury, home of the infamous Stonehenge, you could have probably
heard Marco snigger from the southern hemisphere as our taxi driver to the car hire place
questioned why on earth anyone would want o visit a 'pile of old rocks' (clearly...UK Tourism has
some work to do on educating its citizens on local famous landmarks!).
We picked up the hire car from central London and were advised that we had to fit our child seat ourselves for 'safety reasons'. Hmmm. The mood was however improved once I was advised that I would need to pay an addition 9Pound per day if we had two drivers. Easy...Marco instantly became the designated driver for the entire trip! Karma indeed does exist.
So I somehow managed to get the seat fitted and after another hour navigating our way out of Central London (the Sat Nav 'shat itself'...for want of a better word I can't really think of one). And off we headed for our pilgrimage to the bunch of old rocks. We decided to stop at Windsor Castle on the way down to break up the day which has been one of the highlights so far of our visit to the UK.
We arrived in the centre of town to discover the changing of the guard's ceremony (Irish Guards on this occasion) was in full swing and so the entire town had come to a standstill and we couldn't move. Like any good wife I jumped out of the car with Oscar and ditched Marco so we could check it out and so he could park the car. Big fan of the Irish guards who managed to march in time while playing flutes and somehow avoided falling over or crashing into anyone else (it makes patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time in comparison seem like a natural movement).
After 40 minutes of basking in the sunshine outside the palace we finally found Marco who had to park the car back near London (!) and we headed into Windsor Castle for the 'bargain' price of 16Pounds each. Windsor Castle, home to Lizzie and her brood, is like Mecca for all hush puppy and cardigan wearing older folk who love nothing more than a good castle filled with cobble stones, perfectly manicured gardens, Knights armour, and rooms filled to the brim with gold leafed furniture and portraits of dead royals. Oscar also enjoyed the decorating and decided that King George's bedroom was the perfect place to blow raspberries and once again scream out 'dog! dog! dog!'.
Perhaps he was looking for the corgis'...
King George's chapel was a stunning building and the resting place for more recent royals of times past. We noted that King Henry VIII was buried here with one of his ex-wives...perhaps someone's idea of a cruel joke on old Henry so he is reminded of his shortcomings for all of eternity.
Before leaving Windsor we indulged in a lunch of smoked Scottish salmon, fish and chips (more chips) and in my case a few glasses of Sav Blanc (hehe) before we headed further south.
Now driving through England is while sometimes frustrating, nothing short of beautiful. I really want to write that we are on an incredible journey although the word 'journey' itself makes me feel like I am a contestant on some bad reality television programme so I keep correcting myself...
Finally after snaking through miles of roads boarded by canola fields, some paddocks with seriously large pigs and cows, and ladies selling fresh strawberries, we came to a fork in the road where a sign pointed to Stonehenge and instantly our lovely easy drive came to a standstill, with bumper to bumper traffic in both directions. Marco refused to believe my comments that it must have been because Stonehenge was such a fantastic tourist spot and instead tried to convince me this was in fact people driving away from the rocks in droves.
We eventually peaked over the next hill, passed a few bored looking cows and right next to the highway - there it was! Yes. Indeed a very large group of rocks literally in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of druid loving pilgrims willingly paying their 7Pound entry for a trot around the exterior. Stonehenge is what Marco describes as 'the washing-optional Nimbin of England'. Possibly a little harsh as it is impressive, but I am glad we didn't pre book an up close and personal tour of the ruins which would have set us back a cool $300AUD as the perimeter walk actually takes you up fairly close. The audio tour didn't really provide any further insight into what they were all about other than they are around 5000 years old and then you need to pick one of several 'expert' theories on how they came about including that it was some sort of sun dial. Alas no matter how mystical and thought provoking I could make my voice Marco wasn't buying any of it and even explained to me how the druids could have actually made the monument in ancient times. "It's called one rock on another = steps Sal". Are we joining the dots on why I work in tourism and Marco instead joined the military anyone?
Ok so I apologise to anyone who is a nut for the old rocks as I am sure in a different head space in a different time (perhaps about 5000 years ago) we may have appreciated them a little more. Oscar found the large grass area at the back of the ruins fantastic for a good crawl although he did lose the top of his ice cream which became a tragedy in itself, providing Marco far more cause for concern and interest than the monument itself.
The highlight of the day was we had booked a night at the Holiday Inn Stonehenge online for a bargain price of about 25Pound and expected an absolute dive. Not so, a brand new hotel...unlike Stonehenge itself, placed in the middle of nowhere next to a highway. But we did have a fantastic meal and a few beers and a great night's sleep in a decent sized bed which invigorated our weary bodies after all that Druid worshipping.
Next morning after demolishing the hotels breakfast buffet (Oscar did such a sterling job of covering the restaurants floor with egg and jam toast I am pretty sure we are no longer welcome in the Salisbury region) it was onwards to Bath.
After a lovely drive meandering through the green hills and past spectacular examples of Georgian architecture, we arrived and enjoyed a fantastic first day wandering the streets, and pretty much doing what everyone else in Bath does on a sunny day - walk from tea house to tea house, eat Cornish pasties, and then sit in the gardens and soak up the Bath charm before heading to the pub for a beer.
My Lonely Planet tells me the Romans established the town of Aquae Sulis in AD44 and built the extensive thermal baths complex, and a temple to the goddess Sulis-Minerva. Apparently a chap described as a bit of a 'Dandy' - Richard Nash - turned the bathing complexes of Bath into the centre of fashionable society during the early 18th Century. You only need walk through any of the streets of Bath to see that he was indeed successful and the entire city is a true example of English society of old. In fact I have struggled to find any street in the entire city that I would describe as the 'dodgy end.' Bath is also a real University town and full of students who must have one of the most idyllic existences a student could have surrounded by inspirational scenery and a pub on almost every street corner.
We are stayed in a B&B about 4kms outside the centre of Bath itself and to anyone who is a fan of the Jane Austen classic 'Sense and Sensibility' it looks exactly like the house in the movie of the same name of which our good friend Hugh Grant was a star (I swear he is going to pop out at any moment). While it is a charming property and we were greeted by an excited cocker spaniel and pleasant girl who obliged our request for ice for our BYO G&T's, the interior is a little less charming than the exterior and unfortunately we feel like the unwelcome houseguests who have overstayed their welcome (for the bargain price of 90Pound a night no less!). After our first night I had the nerve to ask our hosts if it would please be possible to have another bath towel and I swear he looked at me as if I had just asked if he could come and help me pierce my old year old son's nose.
Now back to the subject of Jane Austen who is Bath's 'most famous resident'. The novels' Persuasion and Northanger Abbey were both largely set in Bath and being a bit of a fan this had me really intrigued. Alas my own Mr Darcy (who for the record is one of the most cultured and educated people I know), has absolutely no idea who Jane Austen is. So lucky I wasn't hoping for a grand romantic gesture in front of Royal Crescent, as I quickly learnt that men are indeed 'men' and he instead insisted he was in desperate need of a PT session and disappeared for a 6km run. And sorry to disappoint you Jane, no amount of Persuasion can compete with a Marco training schedule.
The Royal Botanic Gardens are very close to where we are staying and absolutely magnificent. Being here on a weekend and the weather a 'belting hot 28 degrees' (to quote our towel-greedy host William as he hopped into his convertible red MG this morning), the gardens were jam packed full of people picnicking and I had to put on my sunglasses to block out the frightening glare of white English bodies who had all stripped off to make the most of the sunshine. For a country that always seems to be praying for good weather it is however a little typical that they then complain and dare I say...whinge...that it's too hot all over the TV and Radio!
For the record Oscar's highlight of Bath has certainly been the gardens and has now decided that picking daisies and playing 'let's put them in my mouth so mummy has to fish them out' is the most exciting game of all.
Tomorrow we leave early to drive up north to York, on the way stopping to visit some dear friends of mine from our old Club Med Cherating days which really does seem about 5000 years ago.