Bath, Stonehenge, and Time Warps.

Swindon Steam Train

Last weekend, on St. Patrick’s Day, we rode some trains out to Bath. I say trains (plural) because we not only had to go from Cambridge to London, but en route to Bath from London, we had to dismount our train in Swindon. Apparently a “lorry” (truck) was oversized and ran into a bridge ahead and they re-routed our train to it’s final Bristol destination another way, and we had to wait there while they verified (1) either the lines going over the bridge were stable/safe, or (2) find us alternate transportation. While we were waiting, though, there was some sort of antique steam train tour going on, and we got to see it blow (smoke) past. Very cool.

Once we made it to Bath, we checked out the Abbey and, of course, the Roman Baths of Aquae Sulis. Sorry we didn’t take any pictures, but we did get to listen to one of our favorite authors, Bill Bryson, narrate some of the audio guide listening posts. There was a startling view from the ground level of the “great bath” that looks up through to the Abbey. An you can see some 21st Century buildings as well… such a funny time-warp from ancient Roman to Gothic to modern. But the next day’s time warp was even more profound…


We got up early enough to meet our tour at 8:00 AM downtown before leaving for Stonehenge. The tour guide managed to lose his bus keys briefly, though, and for about 10 minutes half the group was searching up and down the street. I (Burr) was the one who actually found them, though… they slid behind the driver’s seat on top of a set of socket wrenches, so the keyring camouflaged them a bit.

Anyway, we got to spend about an hour at Stonehenge, which was probably enough. We couldn’t get any closer than 5 meters (about 15 feet), but apparently for those with deep pockets can arrange private viewings in early morning or late at night. I don’t know how deep said pockets would need to be… but those stones are so big you don’t need to be much closer. The larger stones traveled about 250 miles… the distance from Madison to Minneapolis… and weigh as much as seven elephants. The whole structure began construction about 5000 years ago and was actually used until 3500 years ago.

Avebury Panorama

We then went to Avebury, the site of another, older stone henge, and while not as famous and hardly the same scale of stone, it is a much larger site and just as impressive. It’s also a bit more intact. The panoramic picture above is stitched together from 5 photos Natalie and I took, and that’s just spanning about a third of the whole circle. The trench we’re standing above is many many meters deep… and they didn’t have backhoes back then. It was dug with antlers and shoulder bones from cattle, most likely. I imagine there were several generations of workers who constructed the site who never saw its completion.

For lunch, we went to Lacock, a small medieval village that is still pretty much just a small medieval village. It’s seriously only four streets arranged in a square. Being Mother’s Day (or “Mothering Sunday”) in the UK, all the pubs and restaurants were booked full, so we got a Cornish Pasty and quiche at the local bakery and ate them in the cemetery. There’s an old Abbey there, too, which is notable for being one of the few that Henry VIII didn’t destroy when he supplanted the Catholic Church in England. He determined that the Lacock Parrish wasn’t a threat and, being a man of economics, decided it was better to sell the site to someone who promised to remove its “religious significance” (destroy the chapel) than put out the expense to demolish it altogether. So it served as a mansion to the highest bidder.


Lacock is also notable for it’s appeal to filmmakers. If you remove the motorcars, a couple of electric light posts, and lay down some straw in the road it would seriously feel like a 1,000-year throwback. The photo above was shot at what we think was used for “Diagon Alley” in the Harry Potter films (we know it was somewhere in Lacock, and there are only 4 streets)! We also saw the house that was Harry’s parents’ home, and the cloisters of the Abbey were used as hallways and Professor Snape’s classrooms in the films. Apparently, though, the production staff made such a ruckus in the first two films that the locals would not allow them back for subsequent movies.

The final trip of the day was to Cotswold, which is another medieval village known in its prime for the wool industry. But the streams that powered the mills dried up and was largely abandoned, leaving it in a sort of time warp as well… today, it’s the home of a fancy Italian-owned hotel and the horse racing capital of England. Our stay there was briefly interrupted by a hailstorm, from which we took shelter in a square gazebo type thing sporting graffiti from as far back as the 16th Century (so we were told).

Once we got back to Bath, we had about 3 hours before the train left for London, so we spent some time inside the Bath Abbey. It was jam packed with tombs or funerary markers, more so than a lot of chapels and cathedrals I’ve been in. One thing Natalie and I noticed was the use of the character “f” instead of “s” at times. The system was a bit erratic, but we think we discovered it: if it’s an unvoiced (”S”) sound in the middle of a word, write “f,” if it’s at the beginning of a word or has a voiced (”Z”) sound, write “s.” Thus, we saw things like firft (”first”), sifter (”sister”), and praise. We also liked the frequent spelling of “dyed” and “here lyes.” ;)

More terms:
lorry - semi-truck
sport - sports
maths - math

1 Response to “Bath, Stonehenge, and Time Warps.”

  1. 1 liz Mar 25th, 2007 at 10:31 pm

    yay! more Potter references :) I’ll have to re-buy the first two to see Diagon Alley again…
    Seems like quite an educational weekend trip, looks very peaceful there.

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