Sunday, August 16, 2009

Day Six

We started early today, setting our alarm for seven. Having stuffed ourselves at breakfast (which is really good here - I love the Cumberland sausages!) we set out for the Avebury stone circle. It is really amazing - these massive stones in a circular pattern with two rings inside the larger outer ring and surrounded by massive ditches. One of the great things to me in England is this incorporation of ancient sites into modern life. A road goes through the Avebury circle and the town is built up (picturesquely, of course) around it and there are sheep and cattle grazing in the fields among the stones. It was chilly and drizzling a light rain as we walked, which we agreed was fitting for the surroundings and only added to the ambience. It was great fun tramping around the fields and climbing the ridges to look down. You do have to be mindful of the sheep and their offerings though!

By the time we finished at Avebury the rain was coming down more steadily but we pushed on to Lacock, a charming little village between Bath and Avebury. It was once an abbey town but when the monasteries were shut down by Henry VIII and his lustful urges, the lands were sold to William Sharington, whose daughter married John Talbot and the abbey (turned into a private home) and village remained in the possession of the Talbot family for over 400 years until it was all given to the National Trust in 1944. The National Trust now preserves and maintains the historic air of the town. There are residents but they are all tenents of the National Trust. The town has been used in filming for several films including the BBC's Pride and Prejudice and Cranford, another of my BBC favorites. The Lacock Abbey (which was one of our very favorite sites) was used in the filming of the Harry Potter movies. The abbey was built in the 1200's and even though there have been many changes made over the centuries, there are parts virtually unchanged. There are even places where you can still see the traces of the wall paintings that were a part of the original abbey. It is calm and silent; austere but beautiful and with an air of meditation and prayer. It is not at all hard to close your eyes and hear the soft tread of the sisters going about their day or the faint echoes of daily prayers. I could stay here all day.

During WWII the abbey served as a school for evacuee children from the cities and housed mothers with infants who were also escaping from the danger of the cities. At one point, it even served as billeting for soldiers.

Just beside the abbey is a museum dedicated to William Henry Fox Talbot, one of Lacock's former owners. He was very brilliant, it seems. He taught himself to read heiroglyphics and cuneiform and was the first to translate some ancient texts. He was also involved in politics and felt a burden for helping the common man AND he was the father of modern photography! Pretty impressive.

By the time we left Lacock, it was raining even more heavily but hating to waste daylight, we made one more stop.

Oh! But first - we finally had a cream tea at a charming little tea room with a gorgeous garden in Lacock. A cream tea is pretty basic and simple but it's delicious and I've never had anything like it in the States. It's just tea and scones (but fresh, hot, soft and moist scones not the hard crumbly things you usually get in the US) with cream whipped to butter and some preserves. FABULOUS! Oh, also while driving between towns we stopped to admire the Cherhill Horse. It's one of several enormous hillside chalk figures in Britain (most of them horses) and is visible from miles away. During WWII, it was turfed over so German war planes couldn't use it as a guide. Along our route we passed hundreds of the most charming houses, big and small. The whole area was very beautiful. On the way to our next stop, Castle Combe, there weren't many houses but the countryside was gorgeous. Rolling hills like a patchwork quilt in various shades of green, dotted with little fluffs of sheep.

Our last stop of the day was Castle Combe, at the southern tip of the Cotswolds. It was tiny and the shops were closed when we got there but it was enough just to wander around and look - talk about picture perfect...even in the pouring rain! The church there is very graciously left open at all times so we were able to go inside and view it.

After that, we were soaking wet and not a little hungry so we headed back to the hotel. The GPS started talking and now won't stop! Tim has taken to calling her Matilda. We are really glad to have her though - we'd never have been able to see so much of the area without the car and GPS.

Having eaten a burger (for me - and I'm sorry Joni, but I love the beef here!) and fish sandwich (for Tim) from room service, we are now thoroughly contented, sitting in our window seat, sipping our ale and being in England!

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