Once there - sweaty and irritated – Sue managed to negotiate a cooked breakfast for us. Shortly after, our bags passed the weigh-in test which had caused us so much thought and planning in Paris and we were boarding the coach for sixteen days touring the UK and Ireland. It transpired that we were the only members of the tour who didn't stay at the Novotel last night.
If the first day is any indication, we’ll be setting a cracking pace.
It took a while to clear the suburbs, as London is a big place but we headed west to the Salisbury Plain and that incredible set of stones which is known as Stonehenge. From a distance, it doesn’t look that impressive but your eyes tell lies across the flat terrain. Actually, to call it a plain creates another illusion for friends back home. In Australia, a plain is flat or bloody flat or really bloody flat and the Salisbury Plain is none of those. Its undulations dressed in green, so if anyone back in Oz is imagining the Hay Plain or the Nullarbor, then you are on the wrong track.
As we got closer, the deception of distance was quickly revealed and by the time we were on foot and passing under the road and approaching to within 100m of the site, you realised these lumps of rocks are really bloody big! The highest stands more than five metres high and is set in the ground another two. The ancient stone circle has never been fully explained and your guess is as good as any highly credentialed professor. All we really know is that is dates back possibly as far as 3000BC (that’s five thousand years for those counting) and that its aligned with midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset. The only other certainty is that it is a magnet for those into signs, symbols and mythology … the same people who think God is a load of fairy tale bollocks. Several such were attending today, with their astrological rings, tie-dye hemp dresses (some were even smoking their hems) and so peaced-out they’d fail the blood test. Mind you, they weren’t the only ones missing a reality focus. One bloke stood on the path around the stones, his back firmly to them whilst he took pictures of the sheep across the road! I think I caught a hint of a New Zealand accent.
The real mystery is how they were moved into place - the blocks, not the sheep - especially the high lintel stones and those on the inner ring which come from more than 300kms away. All this at time before the wheel. The place had a Devil’s Marbles, Uluru feel to it.
From here it was a short drive to the city of Salisbury and Salisbury Cathedral. A copy of the Magna Carta is held in the cathedral. Building commenced in 1220 (the dates play with your head after a while). It took 110 years to build, especially the problems they had erecting the steeple, which is so badly plumbed that the tip is nearly a metre out of square. The old girl is looking worse for wear and large sections of it are surrounded by scaffolding.
Sue and I chose to walk around the cathedral and had an excellent lunch in the cafeteria, which sinks all of the profits back into the restoration fund.
Back on the coach (mustn't ever call it a bus), the bus climbed up the steep slopes of the Dartmoors - high hills mostly barren of trees and now managed by the equivalent of our national parks. Its a wild, desolate place and has been the scene of many famous and eerie English pieces of literature, of which Conan Doyle's "The Hound of The Baskerville's is a good example. Some farmers still work the land leased back to them but it is mainly left to revert to its natural state. Wild Dartmoor ponies roam the hills and feel free to move among visitors. It was disappointing that we didn’t stop for photos but then, that would have meant missing out on afternoon tea in the delightful Widecombein-the-Moor, without doubt the smallest village I’ve ever visited. This place made Tambar Springs look like a metropolis. Again it was a big stone church which dominated … that and the scones with jam and clotted cream. We were deep into Devon, after all, so a Devonshire tea was most appropriate.
The lateness of our start was telling at the end of the day and we arrived in Plymouth when the traffic was already building but we still managed to visit the very steps where the Mayflower sailed from with such hope with the Pilgrim Fathers who were the first white settlers of America. From the same steps, a handy navigator named Cook set out to observe the transit of Venus in Hawaii and on the way mapped the east coast of New Holland, later to become Australia.
A more pressing problem than being late to our hotel was causing us concern. After swimming in Nice, both of my ears became blocked. One cleared with treatment but the other remained troublesome all through Paris. By this night in Plymouth, it was red and hot and it had been aching all day. There was a rig to be maroled but I eventually received medical help via the phone and started on antibiotics to treat the inside and outside of the ear. It’s a problem I have had all of my life.
Went to bed feeling unwell and disgruntled.