Saturday, March 05, 2011

Lacock and Castle Combe

One good thing about bus tours, like the one we took to Stonehenge and Avebury, is that they often take you to out-of-the-way places that you probably wouldn't make time for by yourself.  And we got to see some really sweet little English towns.

First up, Lacock (pronounced Lay-cock, though I prefer the original pronunciation of Lack-uck).  Lacock is unique because it is owned by the National Trust, a non-profit organization supported in large part by the government.  Up until WWII, most of the town was owned by and passed down between the heirs of only one or two different families.  During WWII, however, property taxes became so high and the town manor was in such poor shape, the owners simply donated the manor and the village to the National Trust, retaining rights of occupancy for their family.  Today, the 1000 residents of Lacock pay rent to the National Trust, and most of the houses are lived in by people whose families go back several generations.

We had lunch in Lacock at The George Inn, a pub that dates back to 1361.

"See our famous dog wheel" -- what's a dog wheel, you ask?  Good question.  It's this:
In the 18th and 19th centuries, this wheel was hooked to the spit, on which a hunk of meat (or a pig or something) would hang over the fire.  A small dog with short legs (think corgi + dachshund) was placed inside this wheel and poked with a stick so that he would run in the wheel (like a mouse on the wheel in his cage) which would turn the spit which would spin the meat so it would cook evenly on all side.

The George also had stocks in the backyard.

Lacock attracts visitors predominantly because of its "unspoiled appearance" -- most of the houses were built in the 18th Century or earlier, and there aren't annoying things like tv antennae mucking up the view.  It has therefore become an ideal setting for filming movies or television shows, including Pride and Prejudice (1995), Emma (1996), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).
Below, Paddington is standing on the fence of a house that played a part in the Harry Potter movies.  Do you recognize it?
It's the house in which Harry's parents lived -- the house he was to have grown up in.

We next drove through a village called Tiddlywinks, which made me giggle, on our way to a small (pop. 350) village called Castle Combe (pronounced coom).  Like Lacock, Castle Combe is well-known for its tranquility and attractiveness.  In fact, in 1962, it was named the Prettiest Village in England.  The village houses are all typical of this area, constructed in stone with thick walls and roofs made from split natural stone tiles. The properties are many hundreds of years old and are listed as ancient monuments. 

Also like Lacock, Castle Combe has made an appearance in some tv shows and movies.  The 1967 film Doctor Dolittle (with Rex Harrison) was made in Castle Combe, and this little brook was turned into a bustling fishing harbor with boats and fishing nets and plastic cobblestones.
Just a few months ago, Steven Spielberg was in town filming an upcoming movie called War Horse.

We also poked our heads into St. Andrew's Church, which is home to one of the very few English medieval clocks still in use.  In the 1400s, the story goes, wealthy businessmen (wool merchants) gave money for the church to build a clock tower.  The church decided against "wasting" the money by putting a four-sided clock up in the tower because very few people could actually tell time.  Instead, a local blacksmith built this faceless clock and it was placed inside the church at the base of the tower, where it still sits today.
More impressive than the clock itself is the fact that it still keeps accurate time.  It's driven by the large hunk of limestone on the right (partially obscured by the wood post). Once a day, the electric motor on the left hoists the stone back into position for another day's run.

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