Day 18: Bath Free Day

For the second free day of the trip, students are visiting a variety of exciting places!

Gretchen, Andrea, John, and Zach have gone to Cardiff, the city in Wales where the TV shows Doctor Who and Torchwood are (or were) filmed. For those of you who haven’t heard of these shows, Doctor Who is a British science fiction show about an alien called “The Doctor,” who travels through space and time on a ship called a TARDIS. The show first aired in 1963, and to deal with actors who wanted to move on or retire, the showrunners in the 60s ingeniously decided to give the Doctor multiple “regenerations,” so that in the fifty-one intervening years there have been a total of somewhere around 12 Doctors (give or take one or two, depending on which parts of what things you consider to be legitimately part of the numbering sequence of the Doctors). The show was canceled in the 1980s but revived (to great popularity) in 2005.

Torchwood (2006-2011) was a spin-off of the new incarnation of Doctor Who, and it was not only filmed but also set in Cardiff. Doctor Who is really meant for kids; Torchwood was intended to appeal to those who wanted something grittier and more “adult.” Its fan following never quite reached the level of pop-culture omnipresence that Doctor Who‘s did, but it has a strong cult following, nonetheless.

Another group of students — Amara, Amy, Christina, Jessie, and Natasha — have gone to Sherborne Castle (also known as Sherborne Old Castle), the ruins of a twelfth-century castle in Dorset. The property was bequeathed to Sir Walter Ralegh by Queen Elizabeth I in 1592. The castle there was already so dilapidated that Ralegh built a new lodge on the site, which then passed down to the Digby family in 1617 and has been in the family’s possession ever since. Sherborne New Castle is a Tudor structure, expanded over the years and still lived in, but this group is visiting the castle ruins (though once they’re on the site, they may also decide to visit the gardens of the New Castle as well — who knows!).

Chanelle, Courtney, and Tara have gone to Bristol, which is very near Bath. They plan to take advantage of Bristol’s shopping opportunities and to visit the oldest extant wood ship in the UK, in addition to other museums.

Finally, Jessica and Nicole have decided to forego using their free rail pass day in favor of staying in Bath to shop and explore. Bath does have spectacular shopping, and we haven’t had much time to explore the city itself yet (beyond walking to and from various sites, such as the Roman Baths and the Assembly Rooms).

As for me — well, I’m in Bath today, too, blogging from a cafe in Waterstone’s, where I have valiantly resisted the temptation to buy at least four different books. It turns out that it’s easy to resist temptation when I remind myself that whatever I buy, I have to carry! That hasn’t stopped some of ours from stocking up on books, though; I think Amara and Zach have both purchased somewhere around 15 books each. They should be congratulated on the efficient packing that allows them to fit all those books in their backpacks!

Tomorrow we visit Glastonbury, a site (like Stonehenge and Avebury) with a great deal of ancient history that makes it popular with Wiccans and others interested in the occult. Like other sites popular with the old religions (including Avebury), Glastonbury was co-opted by the medieval church, and an abbey was built there. Glastonbury Abbey used to feature the (purported) tombs of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere, and it was a popular pilgrimage site throughout the Middle Ages. But, like so many large and powerful abbeys and monasteries in the UK, it was destroyed in the 1530s when Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic church. His efforts to absorb the lands and wealth of the church into the English national treasury (or, alternately, to distribute the less wealthy/influential to favorites) are collectively known as the “Dissolution of the Monasteries,” a process that led to the obliteration of hundreds of thousands of works of art, not to mention the destruction of massive architectural treasures like Glastonbury Abbey and others.

We’re going to discuss Glastonbury’s connection to Arthurian legends, and if the weather is fine, we might go up the Tor. But for now, it’s time for me to find another place to work and possibly some lunch. I’m so excited for our final week and to share these last experiences in England with this wonderful group of students!

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