Saturday, June 20, 2009

England's West Country

I know we are already back and this is a little late but we didn't want to leave our absoulute favorite part of our adventure from you all

We rented a car from near Heathrow Airport in London, threw all our stuff into the boot, and drove it out to England's beautiful West Country for our last week in England. Daniel spent a significant portion of his mission in this part of England, and we were excited to see old friends and old places. As England is a small island, getting across the country didn't take long. On the way, we stopped at one of England's most famous attractions: Stonehenge. The pile of rocks is just of the A303 on the Salsbury Plain and is surrounded by a chain link fence. Entrance to the site is a few pounds per ticket but people aren't allowed to go near the rocks so we just decided to stick to the free area outside the fence. Stonehenge is smaller than one imagines, and is, in our opinion, a bit overrated. We spent about 20 minutes there then continued westward.

We spent a couple of nights in one of England's most beautiful cities, Bath. The whole city is made from a certain type of stone that is quarried nearby (city regulations forbid building with any other material) called Bath Stone. It is a beautiful warm sandy colored limestone that gives the city a uniform look. Bath gets its name from the old Roman baths that were built over the natural hot springs which now are in the city center. The Abbey which now sits next to the baths has beautiful fan vaulting and a unique facade which features angels climbing up and down ladders.

After Bath, we stayed with some old friends (Julie and Darren if you are reading this, hi) just outside Bristol. From there, some of England's most beautiful countryside is no more than an hour away in Somerset and Devon. The area is so beautiful when compared to the urban areas we have spent most of our time in, with little villages dotting hillsides, hedgerows and dry stone walls marking boundaries, and little country lanes crisscrossing the countryside. It is like some kind of movie.

Bristol is near a small town called Cheddar. Yes, THE cheddar, as in the cheese. Cheddar cheese got its start in the tiny town and is still made there. The other thing in Cheddar is a network of caves. Caves, due to their constant temperature and humidity, are perfect for maturing cheese, and the cheese makers rent space in the caves for racks on which cheddar cheese sits and matures. Each 50 pound block of cheese sits in the cave (which also houses bats, by the way) for nearly a year before being cut up into small triangles and sold to adventurous tourists like ourselves. We spent a day there sampling cheese and walking through damp caves with one of Daniel's English friends and his wife.

Somerset is home to a small town located in the middle of the Somerset Levels called Glastonbury. Glastonbury is perhaps the weirdest town in all of the UK. Civilizations have existed in the area for several thousand years. Beside the annual Glastonbury Festival, there are plenty of things to do. Local legend says that Joseph of Arimathea (who owned the tomb which held the body of Jesus) took a thorn from the crown of thorns, which magically grew into a staff to help him on his missionary journies. Joseph travelled from the Holy Land all the way up into Britain and stopped one day on a hill overlooking what was then the sea. He placed his staff in the ground and it took root and grew into a tree. Joseph left, the sea receded, but the tree still stands on the same hill. The species is called "Glastonbury Thorn" and grows most prolifically in the Holy Land, but also in Glastonbury. Joseph is also rumored to have brought the Holy Grail to Glastonbury where he decided to hurl it down into a spring. From then on, the spring has flowed red and is now called "the Chalice Well."

In the middle of town is a walled lot that contains the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. The abbey walls are nearly 1000 years old in some places and staggeringly beautiful. In the abbey, there is a quiet corner with a small informative plaque that says, "Site of King Arthur's Tomb: In the year 1191 the bodies of King Arthur and his Queen were... found on the South side of the Chapel. Their remains were removed in the presence of King Edward I and Queen Eleanor to a black marble tomb on this site."

Although it is unlikely that these stories are all true, the ideas of King Arthur and Joseph of Arimathea and the Holy Grail are very romantic and moving and are plenty of reason to visit Glastonbury.

Glastonbury is apparently located on an intersection of some kind of "ley lines" or something else incomprehensible to us Republicans. The town center is filled with shops selling wizarding equipment and services such as palm reading and spell books.

A few miles from Glastonbury is an ancient hillfort known as Cadbury Castle. There are no walls or buildings left, just defensive earthworks on top of a large hill where cows graze. The hillfort is known on ancient maps and documents as "Camellate," pronounced "Camelot."

Somerset is a very special place that is loaded full of ancient stories and legends. It is one of the most enchanting places on Earth. It is worth visiting if only as a short day trip from London.

On our last full day in England we drove up to England's West Midlands. We took the scenic route through Wales and had a blast. The street signs in Wales are written in English and Welsh, although hardly anybody speaks Welsh as a first language these days. Speaking of street signs, the English good manners extend to their street signs. We have included an example in the pictures.

The English West Country is the last stop on our trip. Driving back to London and then getting on an airplane is the only thing left to do. Hopefully next week we will post some sort of existentialist post that reflects some of our expanded views.


Devanie said...

you guys should write a book. SERIOUSLY! I am always enthralled reading about your trip and find myself TOTALLY interested! One of these days I'm going to get my butt over to England and I want a travel journal from you... PUH-LEEZ!

The Palmer's said...

Didn't know you guys had a blog! Reading about your trip was great - what neat memories you made.