Day 19: Patience Among Oddities

Today we were entirely at the mercy of the Bath public bus service to transport us to Glastonbury so we could visit the abbey and climb the Tor. We were originally supposed to take a 9:10 bus to Wells and take another bus to eventually reach Glastonbury, but due to a misunderstanding about the bus’s arrival, the bus left without us. We were forced to wait another hour for the next bus to come. This set us back on our originally scheduled tour of Glastonbury Abbey because we arrived over an hour late.

However, Glastonbury Abbey did not disappoint. A bit of information to better help in the understanding of the rest of this entry—Glastonbury is extremely eccentric. The entire town is full of “weirdies” as the elderly night watchman from Night at the Museum might say. Our tour guide was no different. He was dressed scholarly in a dress shirt, vest, and tweed trousers, but his most eclectic and eccentric accessory was his beloved dog Rex. This isn’t strange until I mention that Rex is a toy dog on wheels that our guide led around on a leash. As one might imagine, the uneven terrain of the abbey grounds upset the poor canine many a time. This never fazed our guide; he merely chuckled and helped right the toy. It was just weird.

Glastonbury Abbey itself was beautiful. The ruins and extensive surrounding gardens were excellent for exploring. Before we explored, Amy gave an insightful and interactive presentation on the Arthurian legends we had read for today, and as a class we discussed the permeation of the Christ motif in the story of Arthur—his birth’s prophesy, his actions as king, etc. Amy also planned an entertaining skit about the discovery of Arthur’s and Guenevere’s bodies under the supervision of Henry II.

Perhaps the most strenuous part of our time in Glastonbury was when we climbed the Tor, a gigantic, steep hill with a stone tower at the top. Almost the entire group reached the top and took epic selfies individually and as a group with the amazing view. We could not stay up there forever, though, and eventually we climbed back down and headed to the bus stop.

We caught our bus back to Wells, but to our dismay, we discovered that we had missed our next bus by four minutes. Thus, we had to wait another hour for the next one. During this time, many of us were lucky enough to pet a calico house cat that had wandered over to the bus stop area. This one was a bit more cautious than the other cats we have encountered since arriving here, but our American charm placated her long enough for some pets and adoration.

When we did finally arrive back in Bath, it was about 7pm. We decided to buy some supplies at Sainsbury’s and then head back to the YMCA. Gretchen and I had beforehand decided to eat dinner at a Thai restaurant a block from the Y. The atmosphere was fancy, but the food prices were fairly reasonable. I ordered the spicy fried rice, and she ordered the green curry. We both loved our dishes. After a bit of sweating and the aid of a half pint of milk, I was able to finish my food. Gretchen had no trouble with hers due to its medium heat rating. The flavors of bith dishes were unique and flavorful, and I would recommemd this place to anyone looking to try Thai food. I believe the name is something like Thai Tapas.

We are headed to London tomorrow! Less than week from today we will be back in Iowa. That is why I am cherishing every day here, even the ones that are stranger or require more patience.






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!

Day 17 part 1: What’s the Meaning of Stonehenge?!

What's the meaning of Stonehenge!?


Today was full of mysteries, marvel, and charm as we explored two ancient structures, Stonehenge and Avebury Stone Ciricle, and two villages tucked away in the valleys and countryside of England, Lacock and Castle Comb.

Our witty and knowledgable tour guide and driver from Mad Max Tours picked us up bright and early after breakfast at the YMCA (that finally consisted of the anticipated Weetabix, kind of like a granola bar, except eaten in milk like cereal). As we began our first jaunt though the picturesque countryside, our driver began pointing out important sites, pretty views and facts as we passed them by; though he was interesting and enjoyable to listen to, the ride lulled some of us to sleep. When next we opened our eyes we were at the famed Stonehenge! We looked around the flat and Stonehenge-less landscape and automatically sighed with disappointment–that is, until we realized their was another bus to take us up the road a ways. Excitement ensued as we grabbed walkie-talkie-like devices for a self-guided audio tour and boarded the bus. Gasps of awe and clicks of camera shutters started immediately as the massive structure came into view. We were finally able to see what has inspired people to study and admire for centuries.

Our focus had to be reigned in for our class discussion before we could take our fill of the site. Jessica Donahue gave a sparkling presentation highlighting the history of Stonehenge and it’s connection to the 66th plate of “Jerusalem,” a poem paying homage to the ancient structure written by William Blake, a poetic genius and jack-of-all-artistic-trades. Stonehenge stands in a large area of grasslands, surrounded by circular ditches and burial mounds, and was constructed over 5,000 years ago. The structure of stones–some small, broken or fallen, others towering above our heads, massive and intact–are shaped in a fragmented outer circle and horseshoe-like inner cluster. It was built as a temple, with the stone arranged in a sophisticated alignment to mark the passage of the sun and changing seasons, namely the winter and summer solstices in pagan rituals. Many mysteries still remain about the who and why of Stonehenge, as only half of the site as been studied archeologically; but our individualized audio tour was helpful in walking us through how it was built, archeological discoveries, and educated speculations on “the meaning of Stonehenge.”

Our next stop was another Neolithic wonder, the Avebury Stone Circle–look for that in the other blog entry for today!

Following another sleepy bus ride, we stopped in Lacock, a small (only four streets) village tucked away amomg the tree-cover hills, sheep-filled valleys and tiny, winding roads. Perfectly charming, rustic and whimsical, the homeowners and businesses of this little village have hidden their satellites and other 21st century clues carefully, as it is a frequent set for movies, and most important to us, the set of Harry Potter. After lunch in a small park with the sun shinning down on us, we got our unofficial Harry Potter tour, which consisted of our awesome tour guide/driver pointing out the spaces as we passed them and throwing fun-facts at us. First was the famed Church street, a.k.a Hogsmead–it looked just like the movie set! I kept looking at every store front in hopes of finding The Three Broomsticks and a warm butterbeer! Then hidden behind a couple houses, we spied the front entrance to Professor Slughorn’s summer home in the 6th movie. Down the street we spotted the fictional home of Harry’s parents, the scene where they faced Voldemort for the last time, sacrificing their lives and leaving Harry as “the boy who lived.” And last, but not least, we visited Lacock Abbey–the cloisters and rooms of which served a courtyard and classroom for the first two movies. Wishing we had more time, but ready to see what else Mad Max Tours had in store for us, we were soon on the road again.

To be continued…

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!

Day 15: Farm Animals and Roaring Girls

Our final full day in Stratford-upon-Avon was filled with fun, familiar faces, and girl power. Breakfast was a bit different this morning. When we walked downstairs to eat at 8:00 a.m., we were greeted by cereal and a woman who took down our orders if we chose to have a hot meal prepared for us. Most of us avoided the hassle and just took cereal instead, but I think it’s safe to say that those of us who didn’t order something missed our normal breakfast a few hours later. As we waited for our bus to arrive, we entertained ourselves with conversations of yesterday and today, eliciting more than enough laughter to go around. Although we all secretly hoped for another triathlon of bicyclists to cheer on this morning, we were perfectly content with talking amongst ourselves.

After receiving another horrified look (I may be exaggerating a bit) from the man driving the bus, the fifteen of us entered the already nearly-full bus and held on tight for a bumpy but short ride to Stratford-upon-Avon. After thanking our bus driver, we moved onward toward the train station where we boarded a train that took us to Wilmcote.

Within the town of Wilmcote was our main destination for the day – Mary Arden’s farm. Mary Arden was the mother of William Shakespeare. She grew up working on this Tudor farm as a young girl, performing many of the same tasks as the workers do today. This year, the farmhouse itself celebrated its 500th anniversary. As we walked through the entrance, we were welcomed by the some of the sights and sounds (and regrettably, the smells) of Iowa farms that most of us have become accustomed to back home. We saw resident Tudors carrying out their daily routines of milking the cows, feeding the animals, and “cleaning up” after the animals. Like the life on the farm back home, it appeared that the work was never truly done and more tasks were completed each day than we could ever imagine. However, most of the workers were very happy to work with the animals and were able to answer almost all of our questions.

Some of the animals that we saw today were very common in Iowa, though we still stopped by their pens to see them. Roosters, chickens, ducks, and geese ran free throughout the farm. Animals confined to the borders of their pens were cows, pigs, turkeys, and perhaps the most beautiful white horse some of us have ever seen. The sheep and goats were favorites of our group as we were able to pet and get up close and personal with them. The strangest animals by far were the Mangalitzas, a very rare Hungarian breed of pig that was originally developed from the now extinct British breed, the Lincoln Curly Coat. Picture a pig with the wool of a sheep and that will gave you a fairly accurate representation of this animal. Apparently, the Lincoln Curly Coat breed was similar in appearance to the pigs that would have been around in Shakespeare’s day. This particular animal, however, certainly took us all off guard and had us all doing double-takes! Flower beds and vegetable gardens covered the land not dominated by the animals, adding natural beauty to the farmstead.

I think it’s safe to assume that unanimously, our favorite part of the day was the falconry show in which two owls flew in front of, behind, and (quite literally) into the audience. Up first was a little white barn owl named Izzy, who was stubborn and loud at times but very entertaining to watch. The second owl was an eagle owl who was much larger than Izzy and kept us all on the edge of our seats. His huge orange eyes intimidated us at first, but we soon got over this uneasiness as he flew into the crowd several times, perching himself on the bench some of us were sitting at. When we spoke to the falconer afterwards, he said that he feels as though he hasn’t worked a day in his life because he enjoys his job so much. He encouraged us all to do the same with our own lives and to be both passionate for and committed to whatever we choose to pursue in life.

After leaving Mary Arden’s farm, we were given an afternoon of free time to do with what we wished. The majority of us went shopping, searching for any must-have items on our last day in the city. Several of us found what we were looking for and even began purchasing souvenirs for loved ones back home. We also browsed the streets of Stratford for dinner, a few of us finding just what we were looking for at an Italian restaurant just down the road from our next destination – the Royal Shakespeare Company!

All of us were ready for our second night at the theatre, having read The Roaring Girl ourselves for class. The play itself is about a man named Sebastian who is desperately In love with a girl that his father refuses to accept into the family. Sebastian turns to the one person who can help him, the “roaring girl” herself, Moll Cutpurse. Moll is the cross-dressing heroine of the story, who seems to have the world wrapped around her finger and a plan that proves her to be more than a match for any man. After an excellent discussion led by Chanelle, we entered into Swan Theatre to see the Royal Shakespeare Company’s take on the play we had all grown to love. Although there were many changes made to make the play more modern, we all emerged from the theatre smiling and excited, laughing at the comedic elements long after the final curtain call.

We have all enjoyed our time in the city and having the privilege of seeing two world-class plays in the past three days. But for now it’s goodbye Stratford-upon-Avon and hello Bath!

Day 16: Bath



     Today we said our goodbyes to Stratford Upon Avon. As we went our separate ways with Stratford, we looked forward to a new adventure. That adventure is the city of Bath. We made our journey by train. Three trains, two switches, no issues. Our trip went as smoothly as could be imagined. Yesterday (flashback mode) we were given the choice to take a longer trip but with seat reservations. We said no; we would take our chances to find seats on a faster route with less switches. This turned out to be a wise decision, as everyone was able to find a place to sit. Today marks the first day that we have not stayed in a YHA. Instead, we are in a YMCA. Anyway, back to Bath. Mythically named after the Roman Bladud, Bath has a strong connection to the past. We explored a part of this connection today at the Roman baths. For the uninitiated, the Romans treated bathing as a respected ritual. There were different rooms for different purposes. A room would help you to acclimate to the heat. The next would allow you to swim. In one room, you could get an oil massage. The oil was then scraped off and sold (gladiator oil fetched a heavy price). This was used for facial scrubs, perfumes, and other uses considered odd by the standards of today. We had the opportunity to see the the pools themselves. The pools are overlooked by a series of statues, including one of Julius Caesar. The pools are fed through a natural spring. The water from this was (and by some, still is) considered to have healing properties. To get the full effect, the water should be used for bathing and drinking. Visitors are not allowed to get in the pools, so bathing is out. Everyone in our group did get a chance to drink the water, though. Frabjous day! We all got to feel the healing powers of the springs. Most people in our group thought the water tasted odd. So it goes. For the amount of moisture in contact with the structures (with the springs and the rainy English atmosphere), they are in remarkably good shape. It is also worth noting that a variety of artifacts were discovered at the baths and are currently on display. Notable among these are thousands of coins. There are that many and more modern coins in the pools now, thrown in by tourists. Another interesting sight is a stone gorgon. The gorgon is a standard mythological creature in Roman myth. It has snakes as hair ( think Medusa). This one is unusual, however, as the gorgon is depicted as male. For any that are interested, the baths are dedicated to Minerva. Eventually, we left the baths. For any who have that it rains a lot in England, this is true. Today was no exception. It rain on and off for most of today. It rained a bit harder especially for us when we made our way to our next destination. Continued in part two…

Day 16: Fun With Jane Austen

Goodbye, Stratford-Upon-Avon and Hello, Bath. After a late night of watching the amazing and creative interpretation of Roaring Girl at the Swan Theater, we are all a bit tired, but we put on a brave ace and had a delightful day.

Today, we rode the train to Bath, leaving Stratford-Upon-Avon behind us. Immediately after arriving we went to the Roman Baths and the Bath Assembly Room. Zach will be blogging tonight about the Roman Baths, so I will be skipping over it.

The Bath Assembly Room would have been the central point of socialization during Jane Austen’s time. She would have spent many occassions there. It even plays a role in Persuasion. I can understand why after visiting Bath’s Assembly Room.

The Bath Assembly Room was very ornate. The Assembly Room consisted of four rooms: the tearoom, the assembly room, the great octagon, and the ballroom. Today, Jesse gave an informative presentation about assembly rooms and Jane Austen’s Persuasion in the Great Octagon, which like its name states is an octagon.

The Great Octagon was a pale yellow color with one chandelier in the center of its ceiling. It had two layers of white, engraved boarding. Fireplaces lined the walls that were not doors to the other rooms. The ballroom was teal with five chandeliers hanging along the length. It too had detailed engraved decorations. The tearoom was unavailable because it was being prepared for a private event.

It was a beautiful day. I cannot wait to see what Bath has in store.
See You Later,
Jessica Donahue