Thursday, March 31, 2011

I find Jesus and Harry Potter in an Irish cab on the way to Stonehenge

Hey. Nice to see ya. Have a pint.

Yeah...It's room temp sorry about that. Kinda an English thing.  Let it settle it'll taste better.

Right so back when I was researching this trip, I became enthralled with the immense amount of places to see and equally irritated with the lack of time I had in which I had to try and visit all of them.  So I found this nifty little tour that could allow me to check several items off my list, all within the space of a single day.

It was on the 29th of March that I set out on this formidable journey.  Beginning at Harrods in London, our bus would take us to Stonehenge, then Bath, then to the Cotswold town of LaCock(pronounced lake-hawk you sicko).

Traveling on my own this time into London, I arrived at Harrods a bit a head of time and ended up waiting quite a while longer than I anticipated. Twenty minutes in and I thought I'd been had.  Then pulls up the bus in question, which had been waiting for me at the other side of the street.  They recognized me by the sad, confused look on my face and the white receipt I clutched.
 The group on the bus was quite diverse. A couple families from Colorado, one from Florida, a couple sisters from Iran, some chick from India and so on.  Nice, small, polite group of people.
Our guide was a badass Irishman named Tony.  Born in Ireland, raised in the U.S. and currently living in London, he gave us quite a non-traditional viewpoint on the place.  Pretty irreverent but very informative and quite hilarious.
This is Tony. He's a badass.
We drove out of London toward our first stop, Stonehenge, passing many landmarks along the way that
Tony was more than happy to share stories with us about.  Windsor castle, Eton college, a few burial mounds, he ended up knowing a lot about everything.

Turns out he was real into Stonhenge though.  Had a friend in the local archeology that kept him up to date on latest finds, so he was actually a lot more accurate than the audio tour.

Insert x-files theory here
The stones were pretty cool.  You couldn't help but feel a bit in awe of the know-how required to get them the 80 some kilometers from the quarry to the current spot. Tony regaled us with all the current theories on how many people it took(3-4000), who did it(the beaker people) and what purpose it served(burial ground).   Apparently the archeologists have a plethora of new information that they are going to release soon and it's gonna turn a lot of heads.
Still, looking at these things...I could buy the alien bit.  Even the druids moving them with their minds.  Maybe the giants, maybe merlin.  Regardless of what theory you follow, these monoliths are from such a different world than ours and you can feel it just looking at them. I wasn't planning on originally coming to check them out but I'm glad I did.

Next on our tour was the city of Bath.  Originally a roman settlement, it was an ancient hot springs/resort town in its heyday.  Now it houses some great ruins, some awesome museums and some really cool pubs/shops as well.
Most of our time was spent within the old roman bathhouse, a temple dedicated to Minerva that housed some hot-springs. The museum was really informative, and the audio tours were interesting as they focused on daily life of different people discovered to be among the ruins.  Much of the general history I had read up on previously so I admit I did skip over a lot of it, but it was really cool to see an actual roman site.
 The city itself was really interesting and had a lot of architecture that I hadn't seen before.  Mostly Georgian they told me.  And apparently Johnny Depp has an apartment here.  Or a flat. Sorry.
I wish I'd had more time to further explore it, as the city had many more sights(like the Abby sitting right there that I didn't have time to see!!) but after about two hours we were off again.  If I have the time later I'd love to come back and give the city it's deserved attention.  And I would enjoy having another lovely pasty...

Next we set out on a journey to LaCock, a tiny medieval town in a historical section of England called the Cotswolds.  These towns were thriving before the industrial revolution and were focused on the wool trade that gave this area it's name.  Once the industry disappeared or moved to the bigger cities, these towns remained as they were.  So it was a cool way to step into medieval England. 
Now when I say step, what I mean is pummel ourselves through two way roads less than five feet across in a rather large tour bus going like 50 mph.  If you haven't driven(or been driven) through the narrow streets of old England by a crazy Irishman then you haven't lived. I swear I found Jesus during a particularly harrowing right turn, and he was gripping the seat and wincing just like the rest of us.
This was my favorite part of the trip so far.  I loved the feel of this village.  Every building had a slight tilt, as if it had wedged itself into the ground and buildings surrounding it.  There were plenty of warm old locals waving at us from the windows or sharing favorite stories with travelers over a pint in the many centuries old pub.  Further down the street we saw something I didn't expect.  The house of a particular wizard with a certain lightning bolt shaped scar on his head.
Or rather, the house his parents died in...his original house. 

I guess they filmed part of the seventh movie here as well, plus Slughorn's house was found just down the street.  Fun place.  The woman that owns it also takes care of a killer hedge maze in her spare time. By herself.
 Anyway, a charming if quite dead little village.  I imagine I would love to retire there someday...though I doubt the maintenance on any of the homes is very reasonable...still...Harry's folks had good taste.

The last stop on our tour was an extra surprise.  Not planned but on the way, it was another rock henge, this one two hundred years older than it's more famous counterpart.

Avebury was supposedly built by the same beaker people around the same time as Stonehenge.  Though it was built for quite the opposite purpose, to celebrate life as opposed to celebrating burial rites.  It's actually quite larger than Stonehenge in diameter, though a lot of the stones are missing and none are as fancy in terms of their arrangement.  And there are sheep. Lots and lots of sheep.

But another perk, you can touch and sit and even climb on the rocks. And no one seems to care...

Don't look at me weird but there were times when you could feel the energy emanating from these things. Avebury is supposedly built on a point where two ley-lines or energy-lines intersect.  Call it magnetism or spiritual-mother-earth-ness or whatever, but I felt heat from cold rocks damn it.

So anyway a very cool end to an excellent day.  I saw a lot more than I anticipated, and had a lot more fun than I thought I could traveling on my own. My tour-mates were all really cool folks and it would be fun to do this again with the same people.

And props to Tony. You rock man.

Here's a ridiculous amount of pictures...

3-29-11 Bus tour photos

Stone hedge
My next romp will be summarizing my time in very wet but very learned Cambridge and a very cool day in Ely cathedral...

Cheers! I'll finish your pint if you don't want it...I'm getting used to the luke-warm ale thing...


Lisa said...

These pictures are amazing! Your sibs recognized the H. P. home instantly and insanely jealous! Glad you took the tour!

JoAnn said...

I'll raise a glass of Quilters Irish Death to you tomorrow!

Julia said...

Brian--Thank you for sharing this adventure! I am so beyond green with envy just so you know ;)
I just watched a lovely documentary about stonehenge & the idea that it was a burial ground/celebration of death as was its wooden counterpart just up the river, except that one was for life. Also, becareful around those things--I read a novel (well series) in which standing rocks on energy meridians serve as portals to the past--so don't fall in.

Have fun!!
PS I would totally retire with you to either Bath or Harry Potter town ; )

Greg Mengel said...

Great post, man. Tony really does look like a badass.