castles and henges and baths… oh my! a couple of days after arriving in london, we took a side trip to the english countryside where we saw piles of rocks arranged in all manner of configurations.
first stop was windsor castle, 30 miles west of london and the oldest and largest castle in the world as well as the weekend home of the queen. she was not there at the time, preferring to stay at her beloved balmoral castle in scotland. windsor was the castle that had the fire in 1992, which did a significant amount of damage to the property and antiquities inside as well as open up the era of riff raff being allowed inside buckingham palace. the damage to windsor was extensive and the first estimates to restore the landmark were between £40 million and £60 million. here’s the rub: windsor castle, though being the home of the royal family for 900 years, is owned by the british public (the castle, but not the art, furniture and antiquities inside). not surprisingly, helping out an aristocratic family with enormous land holdings, art, jewels etc. and who did not pay any income tax did not much appeal to your average working class citizen of the uk. so, a deal was struck whereby the queen would open up buckingham palace to visitors for a few months of the year whereby a portion of the cost could be recouped by charging visitors £9.75 or $15.55 to peek inside. but hey, it includes a free audio tour. windsor was already open to the public, but an admission fee was instituted. another free audio tour!
not having castles and such here in the states, it was cool to saunter around a real castle. as you would expect, windsor castle is up on a hill, behind high walls and a self-contained village. the building itself is smaller than you would think but the art and craftsmanship contained inside are quite a sight to see. just the china room alone would set your head spinning. since we were on a guided bus tour we were a bit rushed and didn’t get a chance to explore the picturesque town of windsor, but we did see some of the changing of the guard, a once daily event.
next stop: stonehenge. it was the afternoon of the autumnal equinox, a special day at stonehenge. there was a sunrise service, organized by druids and pagans with a smattering of wiccon (i’m not joking) to mark the day when there is an equal amount of sunlight and darkness. here’s a link to some video.
we missed the sunrise service and as far as i’m concerned we could have missed stonehenge altogether. smithsonian magazine published a cover story on new scientific findings at stonehenge, which i read before we left so i was looking forward to the guide talking about the new findings. alas, stonehenge tourist central didn’t seem to either know or care anything about it. in conclusion, stonehenge looks just like the pictures and i would have been satisfied with just driving by it and taking pictures out the window.
not surprisingly in a town called bath there are roman baths which date back to about 70ad. i have to admit that i was the least excited about bath, for no particular reason other than i figured it would not be more interesting than windsor castle. wrong! if you are planning a trip to england, bath is one of the places you should put on your itinerary and maybe even plan to stay for a couple of nights. it’s quite amazing to walk on 2000 year old stones and into structures where steaming waters from the king’s spring still stream into the pools and to learn about the important role the baths played in both roman and english society. you can even drink some of the water, which reportedly has healing powers. not so sure about that, but c and i both drank a cup.
again, we were on a tour so our time was limited and we were only able to see the roman baths themselves and just a bit of the beautiful town of bath, and exterior of the bath abbey, an example of some of the finest fan vaulting in the world and site of christian worship for over 1200 years. we did drive by jane austen’s house and past some of the other homes in town, examples of georgian architecture, but my literary friends will be disappointed to find out that we did not have the time to download and take the free audio tour of bath as jane austen knew it.
we had just a moment to duck into a pub for a drink and enjoyed a lovely conversation with the barkeep who filled us in on a few bits of local news.
as if there weren’t enough to recommend about bath, the visitor’s site lists top dog walking routes around the town and who’s to argue with a town that on its visitor site lists top dog walking routes?
look for adventures across the pond – part III