Day 17 part 2: Bath, Adventures Start Here

The henge at Avebury beneath the bright blue sky.

The henge at Avebury beneath the bright blue sky.

Today started meeting a white, 15 passenger mini bus on the curb outside the YMCA in bath, our current “home.” The bus was our Mad Max tour guide, prepared to take us to notable sights near to Bath. We got to marvel at the mysteries of Stonehenge, learn about the weirdness of Avebury, see the film sights at both Lacock and Castle Combe. This blog will tell you about Avesbury and Castle Comb.

Avebury is, according to our guide, the “lesser known henge”. It is two large circles of stones that were built around the same time as Stonehenge. The stones were both brought from the same place, however, the workers at Avebury had a much easier job. They had to bring the stones 4 miles from their source, instead of the 19 miles stones had to be transported to the sight of Stonehenge. As we made our way to Avebury we saw a field known as the “Sanctuary”. Located just outside the henge it served as a gathering place for worshipers before going to the Avebury stone henge. Here archaeologists found signs of
campfires and pottery, evidence of the people who gathered there. When we arrived at Avebury our tour guide told us about the first destruction and then preservation of the stones. The stones were first destroyed when a Christian church was built in Avebury in  1313. They did not want their church built on a sight of pagan worship. Years later an Alexander Keely, a man whose family created marmalade and was very wealthy, discovered the henge at Avebury. He recognized the henge for the marvel it was and desired to preserve it. Due to the fact that money was not an issue for him, Keely bought the houses around the henge, destroyed them, and worked to preserve them. Out of the 99 stones, 45 were restored. Some of those stones now have interesting names, and stories to go with them. The first one mentioned was the surgeon barber stone. An unfortunate surgeon of the village was standing behind the stone when they were torn down and was crushed beneath it. The man was then taken to a museum in London, which was later bombed by the Germans and scattered. His body was never given a proper burial. This was one surgeon barber who was in the wrong place at the wrong time…twice.

The surgeon barber stone. Here Courtney and Amy recreated the tragic day he was crushed beneath the massive stone.

The surgeon barber stone. Here Courtney and Amy recreated the tragic day he was crushed beneath the massive stone.

The other stone that was discussed in our tour was the Satan’s seat. The large stone had a natural seat carved into it in which it was believed Satan sat to welcome the pagan people into the circle of worship.

Natasha playing the part of Satan welcoming his worshipers in the Satan's seat.

Natasha playing the part of Satan welcoming his worshipers in the Satan’s seat.

 

We also went to see the fertility circle of worship. A phallic symbol once stood 30-34 feet high in he midst of a smaller circle of stones. Although there is only a marker and not true stone, women still flock to this site in hopes that it will enhance their fertility. Avebury was a fascinating and strange sight to see, and although it is not as well known as Stonehenge, that seemed to be a good thing. We were able to discover the stones in the peaceful, worshipful way they were meant to be seen.

The other stop I will talk about is Castle Comb. This small town was the film sight for Steven Speilberg’s movie War Horse. With the quaint buildings and stone streets it was easy to see how this could be the street from the movie. A display within the chapel told us that some of the towns people were angered at the interruption of their lives, however many were pleased as they got to be extras in the show.

It was absolutely fascinating to see how much was so close to Bath. Each place we visit I marvel at the strong connection England has to it’s history. Cheers to a day full of adventures!

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Day Two: Experiencing the Sights, History and…Smells?

To say today’ adventures “taught us a lot” about the literary figures and history known to York would be an unfortunate understatement. The experiences we had today allowed us to see the more of the city through a walking tour, visit the beautiful York Minster, and learn about the fascinating life of a Viking in Jorvik.

We met our guide for the tour on the driveway to the hostel and we greeted with a his lovely British and we took off across the pavement to find the birth place of Wystan Hugh Auden: poet, well-known literary figure, and flamboyant playboy. It was quite fitting that his bust was depicted with a cigarette in hand. The next site we saw was the St. Peters school, a school who has the opportunity to boast – although why you would want to boast in this I cannot quite tell – that Guy Fawkes was once in attendance. A short walk down the pavement from the school was the King’s Manor, a beautiful structure that housed the Abbot, was a moral palace, and a girls boarding school. The rest of the tour included the Royal Palace theatre, and a church in which Richard III invested his son as prince. Each building we encountered in York offered us rich history, it seemed as very few people had not passed through this fascinating city.

Following the walking tour we broke into small groups for a quick lunch. The group I was a part of went to a “Mr. Chippy’s” for fish and chips, which was delicious. But most surprisingly was the side dish of the plate – mushy peas. A typical side dish for fish and chips in England it was tolerable if not slightly tasty.

After lunch we went to tour the York Minster, founded in 627 on Easter Sunday the York Minster is a testament to the art, architecture, and history of the city. The building we toured today was completed in 1472. The church had since then experienced three fires, from accident, arson, and lightening, and yet the beautiful structure remains for both tours and as an active Minster. The church is dedicated to St. Peter, and his image stands between the two large doors if looking from the inside. On either side of the statue of Peter twelve headless figures sign in Cemphor, a type of signing using arm movements, that reads “Christ is Here.” The artist purposely left out the heads in order to focus on the message. At the high peak of the entrance to the Minster is a window which includes a large heart pattern, and is fondly known as “the heart of York.” This beautiful window was a gift to the Minster as a tribute to Archbishops Thomas and Williams and is a awesome sight greeting the visitors of York as it towers in the sky. Although the entire cathedra was extraordinary, I found that one of the most interesting pieces of the art was the blue and gold painting at the peak of cathedral showing the souls of Christ’s feet and symbolic of his ascension. Our tour took us through many of the rooms of the of the Minster as we stood in awe of the beauty and history contained in this one structure.

Our final stop for the day was Jorvik, an archeological dig sight turned museum that taught us about the lives of the Jorvik viking. On this tour we were able to see artifacts from the dig such as a 1,000 year old sock, pottery, and common household objects. The most interesting portion of Jorvik however was most certainly the ride which depicted through animatronics and replicas of artifacts the streets of the Viking people. As we rode through we could smell something sulfuric, possibly fishy, and most definitely disgusting. The smell was meant to imitate the combination of seafood, butcher shops, smiths, and outdoor lavatories that were a part of the Viking cities. The experience was fantastic and truly allowed us to both see and smell what it might have been like living in York during the time of the vikings.

Today allowed us to make fantastic connections and have awesome experiences – now to retire to the hostel, tired, satisfied, and away from the smells of Jorvik Vikings.