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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Where the demons dwell

Where the banshees live and they do live well

It took around ninety minutes to drive from the car rental agency in Oxford to Salisbury, in Wiltshire. Driving on the left side wasn't a problem (I've driven in Japan), but trying to figure out which exit to take in the numerous roundabouts you come across once you leave the motorways was a challenge at times. We arrived in central Salisbury late in the afternoon and quickly learned that the parking meters weren't accepting the new £1 coins. It was about 500 meters on foot from the parking lot to Salisbury Cathedral, passing some historical markers en route:

Though I was aware the cathedral boasts the tallest spire in England, I wasn't prepared for the awesome sight that awaited us as we rounded the corner of a row of buildings:

The church was completed in 1258. Though we arrived too late in the day for the ninety-minute tour of the 123 meter-high tower (completed in the middle of the 14th century), we were able to glimpse one of only four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, the historic agreement signed in 1215 by King John and his barons, setting out the principle that monarchs are bound by the law (but you knew that already). Photography of the mid-13th document isn't permitted:

Afterward, we explored the gorgeous interior of the cathedral until nearly closing time. The grandeur of it all was almost enough to convince this lapsed Anglican to return to the bosom of the church. Almost:

Returning to our car and relieved to find it hadn't been ticketed or towed, we drove to our lodgings for the evening, the Victoria Lodge Guest House. Southern England was still in the grip of its worst heat wave since 1995; the proprietress recommended a nearby riverside pub as both a place to have dinner and a spot to cool off (my daughter couldn't get over the fact that part of the route there was on Butts Road). The Boathouse proved to be a good choice, for its location...:

...and for its food - steak salad for dinner and crumble pie with custard for dessert:

Then, of course, there were the liquid refreshments, including that great English summer quaff, Pimm's:

Feeling cooler, we walked back into central Salisbury, eventually reaching the cathedral again, just as magnificent on a late summer's evening:

Watching Amber enjoying herself on an English village green, all seemed right with the world:

Back at the hotel and posing in front of our rented BMW, which would serve as a trusted workhorse as we drove up to Edinburgh and down into York over the course of the following week:

It was to be yet another hot, stuffy night with only a small fan and an open window to keep us cool:

We awoke the next morning to find the weather had transformed itself. Whereas the previous day (and the four before that) had been sunny and hot (with temperatures above 30 Celsius), day six was cloudy and chilly, with temperatures in the low teens and rain a constant threat. A typical British summer, in other words. The heat wave had finally broken (and would remain so for the rest of our trip), much to my wife's great relief.

After checking out, we drove to the great archaeological site that is Stonehenge. In years past, visitors could drive up close to the monument and walk among the mammoth stones. Today, the road has been restored to grassland and an impressive visitor center, located 1.5 kilometers away and next to the car park, provides an informative introduction to the Stone Age feat of engineering:

Sharp-eyed readers will note the pop culture reference in the bottom right corner:

My daughter poses in front of a replica of one of the massive granite stones used in the construction. No one is entirely sure how the builders with only the simplest of tools were able to haul the huge blocks of granite from the Preseli Mountains in south Wales, located 250 miles away:

Shuttle buses take visitors from the center to the site. Construction began hundreds of years before the dawn of, around 3000 BCE, with construction of an outer circular bank and ditch. The bluestones, the inner circle of granite stones, were added in 2000 BCE. Stonehenge's main stones were put in place around 1500 BCE, set up in a circle with lintels placed on top to produce the distinctive trilithon appearance. The earlier bluestones were also rearranged around the same time into the alignment we see today. In addition, the circle includes the South and North Barrows, which were aligned to coincide with sunrise at the midsummer solstice (which by coincidence had occurred the day before our visit).

Visitors are no longer allowed to roam freely inside Stonehenge. Instead, a pathway goes almost all the way around the site. The result is an amazing photo op:

And, no, it wasn't built by the Druids.

Sacrificial altar? Celestial calendar? Whatever its purpose was, Stonehenge is an archaeological gem.

To be continued...

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