Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Day 4: Some Very Early Ancestors, and Some More Recent Ones

We made a quick trip to the supermarket to buy New Zealand wine as a "thank you" for our friends. It would have been cheaper to buy in New Zealand and take it with us, but that would have meant fitting it in our suitcases as we couldn't take liquids as cabin baggage. And our suitcases were fairly full, given that our chances of doing laundry in the first and last weeks weren't too great. After that, we made our farewells and headed east.

We were aiming initially for the M4, which meant we had to get through Reading and find the right exit. Our book of road maps was fine out of the towns, and the "Rough Guide" had maps of the essential features of some town centres, but Reading wasn't included. So we saw parts of Reading twice before we found the right road to the motorway.

Eventually we turned off the motorway and headed towards Uffington to visit the white horse. There are a number of white horses carved on the hillsides of Wiltshire, but this is the only prehistoric one. The others date from the 1700s and 1800s and are much more realistic in style. I always wondered how the white horse remained so clear - it is apparently because every year the locals have a "scouring" when they remove weeds and dirt, and top up the chalk. It is not, as I imagined, a chalk hillside from which the grass is removed, but some other type of earth/rock which was dug out and filled in with chalk. Apparently it looks best when viewed from the air, which is amazing when you think the people who made it had no way of viewing it that way. (On the other hand, the paraglider we saw must have had an amazing view).

It's about fifteen minutes brisk walk from the carpark to get close. I really enjoyed this, as opposed to slowly strolling around all day, which I find much more tiring than walking quickly.

After leaving Uffington, we made a petrol stop and then headed for Avebury, where there is a stone circle 500 years earlier than Stonehenge. On to Woodhenge, which we didn't spot immediately, and then saw a sign which described it as a circle of concrete markers which show the sites of the post holes. That sounded unspectacular to say the least, and time was getting on, so we headed off without searching further, to arrive at Stonehenge before the last admission times of the day.

Of the two - Avebury and Stonehenge - I much preferred Avebury. Stonehenge sits in a grassy field between two motorways. It is fenced off, and there is an admission fee to file dutifully around an inner barrier, listening if you wish to the free audio guide at numbered markers. The crows own Stonehenge - they perch on and around the stones, while the tourists are kept at a respectful distance.

Avebury, on the other hand, is a much larger circle. The stones are individual standing stones without the lintel stones on top that characterise Stonehenge. The circle is so big that a village has been built in and around it. The sheep graze among the stones, and cottages nestle nearby. You could visit free, except that there is a small museum with an admission charge, which is well worth it. There is also a manor and gardens with a further admission charge, though we didn't visit those. At Avebury I felt as if the distant past was blending seamlessly with succeeding generations, down to the present.

(No, no photos of Stonehenge, I have plenty but I'm sure you can find ones just as good or better on the internet somewhere).

After Avebury, we headed to Bath via the A36 (I think). (I know the numbers don't mean much, but if anyone actually wants to look up our route, it's the easiest way to describe it). Just before Bath, off the A36, is the small village of Freshford. My maternal grandfather's ancestors came from that village, around 1800, and so I wanted to take a look. Also, I had seen a comment in my family history research on the net that the main industry of the village nowadays is b&b accommodation for tourists, so it seemed a good place to look for that night's stop.

We didn't spot any b & b's - at least, we found one place that had a b&b sign but wasn't responding to their door bell - I guess they were a little out of the way to expect business from passing traffic. Probably we would have had to book by phone or internet. I enjoyed having a look at the village, though, which is now a conservation area.

The chimney is a village landmark - it belongs to Freshford Brewery (I don't think the brewery is still operating, though).

My forebears actually came from an area of the parish called Staples Hill, which is on the opposite side of the river to the actual village. The only houses we found there were rather grand (including the above-mentioned b&b). I suspect all the cottages where the agricultural labourers lived have long since fallen down or been pulled down. In the village itself though, some of the houses are labelled "cottage". I was beginning to realise that "cottage" in England doesn't necessarily have the meaning I imagined. "Cottage" to me implied a small single storey dwelling, maybe a couple of rooms, with land around it. In Freshford the cottages are mostly two storey, and all the houses touch each other in a long row, right against the very narrow street (no front gardens). It took me a while longer to realise that that didn't mean they had no land - they may in fact have quite large back gardens. Car parking though, is another matter. In New Zealand we have plenty of car parking in front of our houses or at least room for driveways to the back - this means our suburbs tend to sprawl much more than English ones, so it may not be a good thing when the world runs out of oil.

The bridge in the photo below crosses the river at the bottom of Freshford Village, near the inn. On the other side of the river from where I was standing is Staples Hill. The houses my forebears lived in may no longer exist, but they must have crossed this bridge frequently.

The village pump:

It was getting dark when we left Freshford. The first few b&b's we tried, approaching Bath, were either full or way too expensive. Then we took a wrong turn in the dark, found ourselves up Bathwick Hill, and by the time we found our way down we were on the other side of Bath. Since we were on a main road again, we headed towards Bristol rather than trying to find the centre of Bath, and found a B&b at a place called Saltford. I'm not sure if it's a suburb of Bristol, or of Bath, or just a place halfway in between. But anyway, the landlady was very welcoming, and gave us some ideas on where to find a cheap meal - we chose the Thai restaurant just over the road - and then it was the usual chores - download photos to the computer etc - before bed.

Next day .... we "do" Bath, and head north to Shropshire....


paris parfait said...

It's lovely to see England through your eyes!

Bonnie Jacobs said...

Catherine, because I learned about the Shameless Lions Writing Circle through your post about Florian, I am nominating you to continue the collective short story we are writing together. Here's where you'll find the first parts:

Good luck and have lots of fun with this project! I have enjoyed reading about your travels and will be back each day to see what happens next.

~~~ Bonnie

Crafty Green Poet said...

I have family in this part of England too! I also prefer Avebury to Stonehenge.

Zeborah said...

You can see the white horse from above on Google Maps. :-)