Stonehenge and Bath
Excursions from London are a definite must to see things other than the major city.
We left the city at approximately 8 a.m. headed for Stonehenge. The rain was nothing to worry about inside a warm bus, though some photographs taken through the window were obscured most of the way. The hour-long ride took us through slightly less lavish parts of London and through many rolling hills. Much of the landscape was designated and penned off for farming. There were fewer cows grazing in the fields than back home in New England, however, there were a lot more sheep dotting the green. There were also a few horses huddling together, each under a blanket, every other mile. When we hit sections of the road surrounded by thick woods and shrubbery I managed to see a red-coated hawk fluffing his feathers while perched on a limb.
It was still raining when we arrived at Stonehenge, but it wouldn’t be a real United Kingdom vacation if it wasn’t raining on one’s trip to Stonehenge. In person the rocks actually looked small and the construction seemed more compact than in photographs. But even in the rain, the mysterious stone structure was beautiful, covered in moss and lichens, standing on bright green grass against a grey sky. The exhibit of boulders is quite close to the main roads but the pavement does obscure one’s pictures. What’s good, is that with entry to the site, one has the option of a prerecorded audio tour and can walk out as close as ten feet away from the structure. Two walkways in the shape of a Y give visitors various angles of the structures as well as a safe place to gaze at sheep dotted hills. With patience, it’s possible to snap photos of the structure without tourists. The hardest part is, when it’s raining, dealing with the complaining tourists and trying to keep one’s camera lens dry. Back towards the entry gate is a fairly price gift shop with unique Stonehenge souvenirs, mugs, books, and postcards, as well as an eatery without the typical tourist foods.
As we ventured towards Bath the terrain was continuously gradually sloping with green fields surrounded by thicker woods. Closer to Bath the woods are lusher and the trees are mostly overgrown with emerald ivy and moss. Most of the homes are picturesque farm scenes probably build in the 20th century now fitted for the 21st century. Many smaller properties had small glass greenhouses and shrubbery surrounding them. Some had fences or meager stonewalls. Clusters of these homes were scattered amongst the main roads. Some communities were like American suburbia with a British twist. The houses were certainly not as large and are built sturdier than the average McMansion, but the house, the car and the prim lawn and shrub garden were there. Mini-British-McMansions.
Approaching the city of Bath is an extreme marvel. The city is located on steep hills and a wide valley. The scenery is definitely picturesque as houses are tiny and the architecture is something to admire.
After a homemade lunch at a Starbucks (there are many independent restaurants with hot, cold and French cuisine. So don’t settle on the first thing you see unless you’re packing a homemade lunch like us. There are also major stores to buy anything from tea to shoes to lingerie), we took a tour of the city by a very informative guide.
Built by the Romans, Bath is approximately 2000 years old. The Romans built in the area because of it’s hills, similar to Rome, and it’s hot water springs. After the empire ceased to exist, the Romans left.
John Wood started building houses and terraces, which make up most of the city today. Before Ward built the houses, there wasn’t much of a place to live.
Walking around Bath, one might notice a theme of pigs as there are pig statues strewn throughout the city. This theme is based off the legend of Bath. Prince Bladud, who lived in Bath had contracted leprosy. His pigs had also contracted leprosy and noticed, after the pigs had bathed in a mud bath (our guide said the mixture included acorns), their leprosy had been cured. The man followed, thus being cured from the disease.
Most of Baths’s streets and or sidewalks are cobbles with stone and are narrow passages for cars. Between some of the buildings lining the roads would have been canopies used to shelter citizens and visitors (often the rich) from the rain, according to our guide.
The Cross Bath, which visitors can peer into wasn’t open again until 2006. Visitors can take a dip in the modern-suited room; however, spa treatments are not available in this bath. Across the cobbled way is a the Thermae Bath Spa consisting of four floors where one can dine, take a dip, and get special treatments.
Our guide got excited when talking about the make-up of the time and how the rich were taken around the city. Rat skins, for example, would be used to enhance eyebrows. Hair, often greasy and put up with animal fat, would be covered by a net and wig. The rich would be carried around town and brought to the theatre in a sedan, cautious not to ruin their hair or delicate attire they’ve spent hours to put on.
The famous romantic writer Jane Austen spent much time in Bath during her lifetime, which was paid for by her brother because Austen never married. (During the time period of Austen’s life, if women did not marry, their brothers would have to take care of their sisters financially. Brothers getting their sisters to marry and helping them find a husband was on the top of their brother’s to do list.) The tour guide pointed out many places where Austen conjured up settings for Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice.
Built in the late 1700s, taking eight years to build, the Bath Crescent was a place where the rich would dress up and promenade around to impress one another and picnic. According to our guide, Austen thought the parading of people through the park lawn was ridiculous.
Our tour concluded by walking through the Assembly Rooms which had been struck several times when Bath was bombed for two months in 1943, according to our guide. The grand rooms, colored coordinated adorning several chandeliers, once used for teas and balls, is now used for conferences and a modern servings of tea.
The Roman baths, restored and still in the process of being restored, have been built into a museum where visitors can listen to an audio guide while feel the mist of the baths touch their skin. The grandest part of the tour is the actual bath. Gutters circulate water to and from the rectangular pool under wide-open atrium. Columns line the rectangle where places for people to sit (where Romans and British once sat) as well as steps leading into the pool. The water should not be touched, as it is not treated. It’s fun to imagine Romans sitting next to mist rising out of the light green water, and tan stone.
My mates and I spent the last few minutes of our day in Bath in the Bath Abbey built by Oliver King. While much of the Abbey has undergone restoration, the construction and scaffolding still remain. The cathedral is smaller than others but its still just as intricate and beautiful as any other, adorning a rose window, stained glass, and a fine detailed ceiling.
We left Bath at approximately 4:30 p.m. when the sun was setting, the sky still drizzling, our feet worn out, and the light too dark for any more pictures. The trip is a definite must for the day. Despite not being able to explore the entire city, a day is just enough before one hits sensory overload from the admirable architecture.
Stonehenge and Bath day trip taken Friday January 22.