Thursday, March 03, 2011

A trip to Bath

The beauty of a three-day weekend, I've discovered, is that you can travel on Friday and Saturday, and then spend Sunday resting and recuperating and doing laundry and enjoying church.  We're trying to take advantage of that.

One thing on our "must do" list was Stonehenge, just because it's, well, Stonehenge.  So we planned a Friday-Saturday trip to Bath and booked a bus tour from there to get us to and around Stonehenge.

We first had to get to Bath, which involved a cab ride to the Grantham train station, a one-hour(ish) train ride to London, a tube (London subway) ride to a different train station, a one-and-a-half-hour train ride to Bath, and a half-mile walk to our hotel.  Interspersed with all of those train rides was much walking through very large London train stations.  Traveling is tough when you have small four-year-old legs.

One of the train stations was Paddington Station.  We had read a book or two about Paddington Bear, named because he was found by Mr. and Mrs. Brown in Paddington Station, so Cooper was excited to look around Paddington Station for a "polite-mannered bear behind a bike rack."  Whaddya know, there's an entire display of Paddington Bears that you can buy. 
We did.

Once we got to Bath and checked into our hotel, we scouted out a restaurant for dinner.  We ended up at a pizza place with fancy-ish (but not very hearty) pizza.  And then we ordered this for dessert:
Dough balls with a bowl of Nutella for dipping!  YUM!

On to more well-known and important things than dessert.  (But seriously, warm dough balls dipped in Nutella were amazing.  I licked the bowl clean.)

Stonehenge evolved over several construction periods.  It was begun about 5000 years ago, around 3000 BC, with circular hill with a ditch lining the inside, approximately 360 feet in diameter.  The stones were moved to the area to form an inner circle beginning about 2500 BC.  The larger stones, some of which weigh over 40 tons, are sarsen stones (a type of hard sandstone) likely transported to the area from over 20 miles away.  The smaller stones are bluestones, which came from a location over 150 miles away.  The alignment of Stonehenge coincides with the sunrise and sunset on the summer and winter solstices, suggesting that it was established to acknowledge and presumably celebrate those events.
It's fairly astounding to imagine people building this structure at a time with the most sophisticated tools were deer antlers and the shoulder bones and jaw bones of cattle.

We also visited Avebury, another stone circle formation near Stonehenge.  Avebury is perhaps as much as 500 years older than Stonehenge, but they are considered contemporary structures.  Avebury, however, is much, much larger.  Much more spread out.  The outer circle is formed by a hill approximately 12 feet high, and is lined on the inside by a 17-foot-deep ditch.  This outer circle is nearly 1400 feet in diameter (compared to Stonehenge's 360-foot-diameter outer circle).  Alan took this picture standing on the the hill that forms the outer ring of Avebury.  Just below, you can see the ditch that also runs the circumference of the monument.

Inside the ditch is a ring of nearly 100 sarsen (sandstone) stones.  In addition, there are two smaller rings of stones inside the larger one.  And you can actually go touch and climb on the stones!  Cooper and Paddington did:
It is unknown why Avebury was built, though some suggest it was a great temple to hold ceremonies relating to fertility (both of the land and of the women).

Another unique feature of this area was the series of giant white horses on hillsides.  The white horses, carved into the chalk hills, range in size from 45-feet high to over 360-feet high.  They were created for unknown reasons, perhaps as an emblem of the local people or for ritualistic/religious reasons.
The oldest white horse in the area is probably 3000 years old, but the rest were carved within the past 300 years.  The newest white horse in this county was created to celebrate the new millennium (11 years ago).  At one time, there were 24 such figures in Britain, 13 of which were in this area (Wiltshire County).  Eight are still visible and they get periodic upkeep, including a complete overhaul every five years, to keep the chalk from getting too overgrown and gray.


Jodi said...

Amazing! Cooper is so cute standing in front of Stonehenge.

I just realized I meant to loan you Sarum by Edward Rutherfurd, and never did. It's an entertaining historical fiction about the history of Stonehenge and Salisbury. If you haven't read it yet, remind me when you get back and it's yours.


Thomas said...

Very amazing...I'm honestly quite jealous that you all are getting to share this wonderful opportunity. The pics of Cooper are are the great stories of his "experiences". I've been enjoying staying up on your family's Harlaxton adventures.