I was introduced to British Rail and the Underground all within two hours’ time. We left Brighton and headed for the St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel in London which was quite the change from the teeny tiny hotel in Brighton.
We got up at 5:30 (groan) so we could be at the pickup point for our Coach Tour to Stonehenge and Bath. I have waited most of my life to see Stonehenge and, of course, Bath figures prominently in Miss Austen’s writings, although I understand the lady herself did not care for her stay there.
I was trying very hard not to get overenthusiastic lest I be disappointed. We dressed in multiple layers of clothing because it is windy and cold on Salisbury Plain. Watch the Beatles’ movie Help! Sometime if you don’t believe me.
I didn’t bother with the audio tour at Stonehenge because Brenna had been a year ago last September and she told me I already knew everything they were going to say.
It doesn’t feel New Age to me at all. It seems very serene. Like it’s exactly where it’s supposed to be. They got it exactly right.
There is a barrow there and I asked the ladies in the gift shop why it hadn’t been excavated (Brenna’s and my guess was that it’s pretty hard to get funding for anything educational, people preferring the Kardashians to culture) and they said there are more than 500 barrows surrounding Stonehenge. Well, that would certainly take some time now, wouldn’t it?
We headed off to Bath where all the buildings are built of a stone found only in that area. It’s a very Georgian city and it’s all the same color!
It sits on the River Avon (short “a,” folks, who knew?) and it’s two biggest attractions are the Abbey and the Roman Baths.
The Great Bath once had a roof over it and the water was clear. But the roof went away a long time ago (so much so that when Henry III “discovered” the spring, he had no idea the Roman baths were there and built The King’s Bath) and the water is exposed to sunlight and, as every pool owner knows, that means algae.
The complex originally had several buildings, saunas, massage rooms, more private smaller baths off to the side, cold baths to plunge into after the warm bath and a temple to the patron goddess of the springs.
The baths and the abbey are right next to each other so we headed into the abbey. It’s ceiling is wonderful
and the building has to be composed entirely of graves and/or memorials.
I’ve never seen so many in all my life.
We stopped in The Pump Room and “took the waters,” which were not nearly as bad as I had expected from something filled with iron oxide. My sister once had me drink from a small mineral spring on the way to Sequoia National Park and it was vile. Maybe the fact that they filter the water in Bath helps, because it just tastes a little off.
We headed off to the Assembly Rooms which figure prominently in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Then we went back to wait for the coach. With my foot hurting more and more with each and every step.
As we left, with Young Phil, our bus driver, fighting the traffic from the rugby match*, Brenna said, “Well, what did you think?” My reply was that it was one of the most beautiful cities I had ever seen. On the way back I finished Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. I had read Coraline when I was still teaching freshmen, but his novels for grown-ups are better. Brenna had wanted me to read it so that I would “get” the joke and everyone looked at us funny as we collapsed in giggles at the Knightsbridge station. If you want to know what I’m talking about, you will need to read the book.
*I would just like to say I am not particularly fond of sports fans. The origin of the word is “fanatic” and sports bars in Fresno have been destroyed by Raiders fans. When our train came into London, there was a large group of men marching and shouting and there was a substantial police presence. I had no idea what was going on. Turns out they were football fans. I have no idea if their team won or lost. Either way, it was frightening.