Over ten years ago now, on my first visit to the UK, Stonehenge was high on my list of things to see. When we started planning this trip, it was at the top of J's list too.
The morning dawned grey and rainy in Bath. We headed to the Royal Crescent to see a museum - a house set out for the 1780-1800's, but it didn't open til 10.30. Having allowed far more time than needed to get there, we wandered around the rainy gardens for a while. After a little while, we caved and went looking for brollies. This resulted in three happy little surprises.
Firstly, we got to walk along Jane Austen's gravel pathway. Secondly, we found a garden museum (the only thing open and free at 9am in Bath!).
Thirdly, we bought our umbrellas at Jolly's - the world's oldest department store! Lovely!
Finally we got to see the house, which was exquisite, restored in great detail and staffed by learnéd volunteers. From the front of the houses on the Crescent, they look grand, but townhouse sized. Inside, the rooms were more spacious than expected. Five floors, five or six bedrooms for family and guests, more bedrooms for servants, four living spaces for the family, two living and numerous working spaces for the staff... Two things assisted with this spaciousness - high ceilings and steep stairs kept the stairs from occupying too much floor space, and the lack of what we would call "wet areas". Instead of bathrooms, each room had a chamber pot cupboard hidden in the wall panelling!
After this visit, we headed out of Bath, back into the English countryside. Where we saw helicopters, jets, and signs for tanks. No, I'm not kidding, signs for tanks!
We didn't see any actual tanks, but we did see some thatched cottages. Squee moment!
In the five years since my last visit to Stonehenge, there's been a huge amount of work done to the visitor's centre - a new, larger building, amazing displays that let you stand inside a virtual image of the stone circle, both as new and ruined, a reconstructed Neolithic visitor's centre, and a shuttle bus over the hill to the site itself.
The old visitors' centre and car park are being demolished, and it's a gorgeous walk over the hills to nearby barrows. (Knee still too swollen, humph!) I think this was the first time I've visited in summer, and the crowds were rather dismaying. Most people were happy and quiet, but in some places where the path was narrow, it was quiet crowded and people looked annoyed. J was enthralled, so we took our time. The sun came out. So magical.
We escaped Stonehenge just ahead of the crowds and set out for Old Sarum, the ruined castle of Salisbury, 8 miles away.
This castle, built by William the Conqueror and pulled down during the reign of Henry VIII, is today a glorious grassy hill, with trails of wall footings and a view of the site of the old cathedral. When the cathedral was within the king's land, the bishops had to operate within the king's rule. After a dispute, the bishop moved the cathedral down onto the church lands a mile or so away, and the town of Salisbury sprang up around the bishop's market held there. That was our next stop.
The beautiful cathedral is home to some lovely objects, including a clock that has been ticking away for hundreds of years, a reflective baptismal font, lovely stained glass, tombs both graceful and grisly, and statues modern and medieval.
My favourite tomb is the first one built in the cathedral - that of Sir William Longspee, cousin to King John (the "evil" brother of Richard the Lionheart). Sir William was present at the signing of the Magna Carta, the first document of rights and responsibilities signed by the king and his barons. One of the original copies of the Magna Carta is kept in Salisbury's octagonal Chapter House, off the cathedral cloisters, but, sadly, it was closed by the time we got there.
Leaving Salisbury, we drove to the edge of the New Forest to our delightful old English pub for the night, the Woodfalls Inn.