Trip Journal - Chippenham

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Salisbury -- 18 July 1998

Gordon drove down from Edinburgh the night before and got in quite late. Paul waited up for him, but Irene and I went off to bed by midnight, so I didn't see him until I came down for breakfast, and he was sitting at the table in his blue Japanese dressing gown. Irene had said she wanted to be at the Crazy Golf center in Monkton Park by 9:30, as a friend of hers, Judith, was having some kind of event there. Irene was bringing cups and we were all going to play a round of mini-golf. But we didn't get there until 10:15, I think because Gordon was dragging his heels a bit. By the time we got there, if anything was going on, it was mostly over. but we paid our 60p and selected our putters. The woman behind the counter gave us a score card, but there were no pencils. I had to borrow one with a stern admonishment to be sure to return it. Are pencils, like umbrellas, another thing that Brits always have on hand? Unfortunately the course was really bad. It was made entirely of concrete, and there were some spots where you couldn't tee off because the ball wouldn't stay put. Obviously the guy who build the course was absent the day they we teaching how to use a level. In addition, there were puddles everywhere and pebbles scattered about. We were troopers and had a pretty good time anyway, at least for the first 9 holes. We got a bit silly after that, and may have cheated a wee bit.

There were dogs everywhere in the park. A father and two sons who came to play golf on the real golf course next door brought their two dogs. One was a puppy and hadn't learned to accept a leash as his friend yet. He pulled and sat down, the usual tricks. There was also a bright-eyed Border Collie on the way out who brought me a stick to throw. His people told me I'd just made a friend for life.

We went home and had a quick lunch of sandwiches, yoghurt and cake. After lunch, the four of us got in the car and headed out to Salisbury to do some sight-seeing. On the way there, we stopped in at Stonehenge. Irene had been telling us that it wasn't worth going to because it was so small, not really that impressive at all. They suggested that we skip it altogether, but we insisted that we at least had to have a look. The stone formation itself was pretty impressive. I have now idea how they put it up without modern equipment. It was constructed over 4,000 years ago and is aligned such that it can be used as a solar calendar. It is situated on a wide plain, in the middle of sheep pasture. Paul and I thought it would be fun to sneak in at night through the sheep pastures. For this is the disappointing part: Stonehenge is surrounded by a tall, ugly chain link fence, which really ruins the view, especially from the road. Part of this is intentional, as they are now charging 5 per person to go inside the fence to have a closer look. There's a big parking lot on the other side of the road, and the place is crawling with tourists. Once in, you are only allowed to walk on a set path, which doesn't let you come up close to the stones. Not the best conditions for a mystical experience. We didn't see any point to paying to go in, so Paul had me stand on his knee and take a picture over the chain link fence by the road.

After that, we drove into Salisbury, parked the car and popped into a nice pub called the Wig and Quill for a restorative pint. The Wig & Quill is a great old-fashioned pub with lounging chairs grouped for conversation. Gordon told us that all the colours were authentic from the period (1700s). People with old buildings are required to research the permissible colors for the time period before they can paint. Even on the inside. Is a very strict process.

We walked in the direction of the Salisbury Cathedral. Gordon was very excited to see it, as it was his first time. This really surprised me because he's very well travelled. The cathedral was built between 1220 and 1266, pretty darn old in my book. Because it was built so quickly, the style is quite uniform and cohesive. There are painted arches and great flying buttresses in the Early English Style. For a great read on how the cathedral was built, check out Rutherford's "Sarum". Sarum is the ancient town just a couple of miles North. An interesting tidbit it that the tall steeple wasn't part of the original design and was added 20 years after the cathedral was finished. I'm betting the local Bishop found out his rival Bishop was getting a spire on his cathedral and so he had to have a better one of his own. Like all great churches in Europe, there are plaques all over the interior walls dedicated to and making much of the deceased. There's incredible stained glass, and interestingly you can't tell its there from the outside. The ask for a "donation" of 3 per person. When you come in the main entrance, you have to walk right by a man behind a counter that looks just like a ticket counter, so it seems like you really have to pay. Irene and GOrdon didn't though, they just walked right past. So it works kind of like a tourist tax, since the locals all know you don't have to pay, but the tourists don't. I & G figure they already contribute enough to the local churches through their contributions to their own church. What did surprise mew about the Cathedral was how involved it was with Amnesty International and other similar causes. I'd expect a church that's been around for 700 years would be more concerned with keeping the walls from tumbling down. Its quite impressive.

Salisbury has been a huge market town for over 600 years. The streets fill up with produce and other goods on Saturday. Unfortunately we arrived on the scene just as everyone was closing up, but we did get some millionaire's shortbread from a bakery and some whiskey and cherry filled chocolates, so all was not lost.

We came home by way of the famous horse chalk figures. There a enormous figures cut into the hillsides all over the chalk hills in the southwest of England. The figures are created by scraping away the thin layer of topsoil to reveal the white chalk underneath. Since nothing can grow in the bare chalk, these figures remain for hundreds of years with little maintenance. Many of the figures are horses, which date from roman times, and may have been used to mark a military meeting place, or a market. Another interesting figure, whom we did not see, ia a 180 foot tall Cerne giant, who is quite well endowed with a 30 foot penis.

That evening, we met Judith at the George Inn in Lacock, where Irene and Gordon go to church, and Irene is the church secretary, apparently a very prestigious position. Like everything else in this town, the George Inn is quite old, dating back to the 1330s. According to the sign out front, it has a "grand old fireplace with a dogwheel." We never did figure out what that was. It was nice weather, so we sat outside and never got a chance to look for the dogwheel. Judith was very nice about standing us a beer, even though she only drank Coke. Irene and Gordon had their usual Bitter Lemon. After a couple of drinks, we said goodnight, as Judith had to teach Sunday School in the morning and Irene was going to help.

Lacock and Castle Coomb -- 19 July 1998

We went with Gordon and Irene in the morning to Lacock, where they went to church and we took a tour of the town. The entire town was donated to the National Trust in 1944 and has changed very little since the 18th Century. "Moll Flanders", "Emma" and the BBC version of "Pride and Prejudice" were filmed there. Lacock, which means "little river", boasts many famous inhabitants, including Camilla Barker Bowles. She apparently doesn't come to church very often because she doesn't want to burden the church with all the press. Irene and Gordon seem to think that an engagement between Camilla and Prince Charles will be announced before Christmas. Charles' two sons, Harry and William, have been invited to Camillia's house for tea or something, which is apparently the first toward Camilla and Charles beginning a public relationship. If Charles does marry again, he won't be allowed to be the head of the Church of England, and therefore won't be able to be King of the Empire (which includes Canada, Australia and South Africa). But Irene maintains that Queen Elisabeth has already made it clear that she doesn't want Charles to be King, and the honor will be passed on to his son, William.

There are also some less famous but no less important personages who inhabit Lacock. There's Kirk, the impeccably dress American, formerly an actor on Broadway. He lives with Jacques, another American who owns a castle near to the town. We're not sure what Kirk does now, but apparently Jacques is independently wealthy, since recently he has been spending his time attempting to circumnavigate the world in a balloon. Irene and Gordon were on TV during media coverage of the upcoming flight. Kirk told us that they had just lost their housekeeper, after her significant other had had a heart attack. Just up and walked out with no notice at all. And they had inherited her too from the former owners of the castle. Now Kirk was having to clean and do laundry on his own, and they have guests at the moment, so its all very difficult. Kirk is being a real trooper though, stiff upper lip and all. I believe that they had built a house there for the housekeeper, so perhaps they would be justified in being a bit upset, though the house may have been for one of the three gardeners. Its so hard to keep track.

After church and tea, Gordon and Irene dropped us off in the town of Castle Coomb while they went grocery shopping. Castle Coomb, if possible, is even nicer than Lacock. It feels more alive somehow. Lacock is a museum piece and time has stopped there, while Castle Coomb is an old village that is still alive and beating. Dr. Doolittle was filed there in the 1960s. There's a great market cross, an old church and old houses along the main street. It looks like the one major side street has been taken over by the hotel there, and now it's gated and you can't go in unless you're a guest. The whole town was overrun with Japanese (and other) tourists in british hats. We decided to get out of the crush and walk some of the paths through upper Castle Coomb, which is presumable where all the people who work in Castle COomb live. There wasn't a lot to see, but it was quieter.

Gordon came by to pick us up sans Irene. He said he had dropped her off at home and she was making dinner for us. So we went back to Chippenham, had a nice dinner, and the Gordon had to leave to drive back up to Edinburgh.

One last tidbit: while everyone was still in church in Lacock, we came into the churchyard to look at gravestones and discovered a mammoth cedar tree. Irene later told us it is over 700 years old. They planted it in the churchyard because the cedar is an ancient christian symbol, and it has flourished and spread so that it now dominated the yard and the church itself. There are those in the congregation who want to cut it down, because they don't want it to fall and hurt someone. I think that would be tragic. Why can't they just plant another one somewhere else in the yard, and that way is this one did come down, they'd still have another one. But to kill a noble tree...

Bath -- 20 July 1998

We took the train to Bath in the morning, just one stop West toward Bristol. We had spoke to one of Jean, Jane or Jeanette, (Irene's closest neighbors, I don't know which) and she told us that although the Roman Baths museum was quite expensive, it was really worth it. And if we were really wealthy, we could stay and eat in their cafe. So after hitting the tourist office, we headed for the baths. It was indeed expensive: c8 per person. Paul wasn't convinced we should go in, but in the end we did go and it was really cool, although the price is definitely ridiculous.

There is evidence that there were settlements in and around Bath before the Romans arrived. The area was a marsh with natural hot springs (the only ones in Britain). It was probably a Celtic area of worship to Sul, the water goddess. In 44AD, the Romans arrived and established the town and spa of Aquae Sulis on the site. According the legend, before the Romans, King Bladud also established a town there after being cured of Leprosy (he was made goode, and this expression is the origin of the last name Goode). By the time Agricola was running things, it was a famous place with a huge bathing complex. There were hot and cold pools, saunas heated from under the floors, etc. This particular source spring pumps out 17,700 liters of water every day. What's really interesting that up until the 1880s, no one even knew it existed. THe complex had fallen into ruin, been buried, and then houses had been built up over the site. One day, someone called to complain about water seeping into their basement, and it was warm water, which led investigators to suspect an underground hot spring. Over time, the city bought up all the houses in the area and then demolished them. underneath they found the ruins of the roman baths, with the water still running. (For more, check out www.romanbaths.co.uk). The source spring was housed in an enclosed pool that was dedicated to Sulis Minerva. No one was allowed in, as the source of the healing waters was considered sacred. From there, the water was piped to the different pools via lead pipes, which are still there. The pools were also lined with lead. This was the first big piece of Roman architecture that I had seen in person. Before this I'd only seen the remains of settlements. This was a hugely impressive undertaking. Just channeling the water was a complex process. And the way they pumped the hot air under the floors to heat the rooms. Great stuff. The museum was also impressive, just for the sheer number of artifacts and the volume of information about each one. There were small sheets of copper on which people had inscribed their prayers and curses, then threw into the sacred pool of Sulis Minerva in hopes that she would hear the request and act on it. Many of the curses went something like this: "May the person who stole my toga die a most horrible, excruciating death". The Romans must have been a vindictive lot. There were also gravestones, pieces of the old buildings, statues, etc. I really got a sense of what it must have been like 1800 years ago.

After the baths, we decided we definitely were not wealthy enough for the Pump Room (the cafe at the baths) and so we did not end up taking the waters. We went to the Bath Abbey instead. I'm sorry to say that all the churches we have seen are running together in my mind, and I can't think of anything that would distinguish the Abbey from all the other abbeys and churches in England. It has been beautifully restored (it was bombed during the war) with lots of stained glass, sarcophagi, and inscribed, shield shaped plaques singing the praises of dead people.

It was way past lunchtime when we left the Abbey, and probably nigh on tea time. In our travels to seek a suitable location for food, we stumbled onto a Cricket game, which was something Paul had wanted to check out, but hadn't found yet. He had this idea that if we sat and watched the game long enough, we could figure out the rules. Base ball is based on Cricket, after all, right? Yeah, right. After an hour, we left no more informed than when we came in. There are batters, and pitchers who throw a ball at them trying to slip it past them and knock the little bails down off the wickets standing behind the batter. The batters prevent this by batting the ball away, then they see how many times they can run back and forth between the two wickets (the other wicket is behind where the pitcher stands) before the pitching team gets the ball back to the pitcher. It seems very silly. Only in Cricket could a grown man get away with saying "Lovely start, Percy" and not have the whole place assume he was "playing for the other team" (that's a Seinfeld reference). Paul finally decided to be hungry (our stomachs have very different schedules), and we found a little place called the Bath Bun. The guy who waited on us was very down and must not ever have very much fun. He had very small, very intellectual glasses and probably aspires to be a writer, but is reduced to this... I said to him, "How's the hazelnut and chocolate shortbread?" to which he replied "Its quite dry really". I burst out laughing. I ended up ordering it anyway and thought is was great, although it was more like biscotti than shortbread, so the guy was technically right, but his answer could have been a bit more inspired. Three theatre major students sat down next to us (all guys, and one of them admitted to crying when he saw Titanic - I love Brits). One of them asked the waiter what was the difference between Old English Tea and English Breakfast Tea, because there was a big difference in price. "Not very much" was the curt reply.

We walked to the train station after tea and happened to pass by a store specializing in left-handed appliances and tools. It was called the Left Handed Store. It was closed, so we could only look through the window. A lot of the things in there were jokey, but there were left-handed scissors, can openers, corkscrews, and knives. What I'd like to know is, how is a knife left- or right-handed? There was a sign on the door with a list of questions to help you determine your true handedness: "There's an itch in the exact center of your back - which hand do you use to scratch it?". Paul turned out to be more left-handed than I was.

Chippenham -- 21 July 1998

We didn't really do very much on Tuesday. We weren't really motivated to get up and moving, although in hindsight we wished we had, because we really could have spent two days in Glastonbury. What's interesting about the day was that it was the first day that we spent any significant time apart from each other, excluding bathrooms and sleeping in separate dorms in the hostels. It felt really strange, like that Star Trek Next Generation episode where Picard and Crusher have these implants and they can't get more than a few yards away from each other without getting sick. I went out to the bookstore to do some research on Avalon and Glastonbury, while Paul loafed around an took a bath. I was probably gone only a couple of hours, but it was really weird.