Have you ever looked up at a tour bus and wondered who is on that thing? Have you ever gazed at it and though “what person wants to do that”? Well to answer your question, those people are…us. Today we tried out a whole new experience on a day long Stonehenge bus tour. It was really quite good…we enjoyed that we could turn off our brains for awhile and have someone just chauffeur us around, telling us where to get off and what to look at. Now don’t get us wrong, we’re not about to trade in our independent backpacking trip for a cushy bus tour, but we did enjoy ourselves doing it for the day.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves…back to the beginning of the day:
We started this morning off a little earlier so that we would be able to catch our bus. After stopping at Costa Coffee (the UK’s #1 coffee franchise) for a hot beverage & a muffin we were waiting with the masses for our coach’s arrival. Justine got a Gingerbread Latte & Kristin a Vanilla Steamer. They were so yummy we almost forgot about how cold it was this morning (and how it is 30 degrees at home). It may have been chilly, but it was not raining. In fact, the rain held out for the entire day…we even got a little sun in the afternoon!
While waiting for our bus we chatted with a nice man from Calgary. He and his wife always do bus tours (and not just the day ones but big long ones) and they apparently love it. It was interesting to hear that side of things, as we always just seemed to look at the negatives before. When our bus arrived it was not in fact a big, tackily decorated coach but a cute little white minibus. We were also pleasantly surprised by our fellow tourists. There were only 2 seniors, no over-weight people and a fair few people in our age range.
The first stop of the day was Stonehenge. Stonehenge need little introduction, it is one of the most recognizable sights in the world. Monuments have stood on this location for almost 5000 years. This was a time of no written record and as a result there are many questions regarding Stonehenge. It is known that Stonehenge has great religious importance to the people of that time. As well, it works as an astrological clock, keeping in time with the solstices.
This was the main attraction of the tour but we started there so we could beat the masses. It was still busy-ish while we were there, but noticeable busier by the time we left. Now Stonehenge is really just a bunch of big rocks with lots of people crowded around them…or at least that’s what a jaded person would say. Being our young optimistic selves we chose to see the wonder in the site…even if it was a bit smaller than we expected. You can’t help but be impressed and amazed at the skill, dedication and hard work that must have been needed to build this wonder.
Next we went to Avebury. Avebury is a much larger stone circle and henge. You might be asking yourself, what is a henge? A henge is composed of a ring bank and a ditch (like a castle moat) but with the ditch inside the bank (like a castle moat being inside the castle walls). For this reason it is believed henges served no defensive purpose, even though the original ditch was 9m deep with a 7m high bank!
Avebury is composed of a large stone circle and two smaller ones inside. Apparently Stonehenge would fit inside one of Avebury’s smaller circles; Avebury is that much larger! There are many differences between these two henges. First, unlike Stonehenge, Avebury serves no astrological purpose and it’s religious importance remains a mystery. Second, Avebury has fallen into a greater state of disrepair (somewhat on purpose as the church wasn’t big on keeping around such a large Pagan symbol). It also has much more of an up close and personal feel. You can just go right up and touch the rocks…heck you could climb them of you found the right footing!
The people aren’t the only ones who get up close to the stones…the sheep just graze around them. Kristin really likes taking pictures of sheep…she probably has as many of them as she has of the stone circles…but they’re just so gosh darn cute!
Along our route we had a lot of cool non-stops. And by that we mean things that didn’t need a stop so we did a slow drive-by of. Here’s a handy list:
Bronze Age Burial Mounds – These hills in the countryside are exactly what they sound like. Back thousands of years ago the important people in a tribe were buried with some of their prized belongings or important tribal objects in a large pit which they later covered with a large hill like mound. Often there was only one person in each of these mounds.
The Cherhill White Horse – This White Horse is from the 18th century and is based off the more famous Uffington White Horse in Oxfordshire which dates back almost 3000 years. The giant horse was made by removing the top soil and exposing the naturally forming white chalk. It is a pretty impressive sights too see! The white chalk was so vibrantly bright that it didn’t seem naturally colored!
The Westbury White Horse was the original of the two White Horses in this area. We were able to get a closer view of this one. Its amazing that at it’s great size it still manages to look like a horse!
Cley Hill – This hill has had more UFO sightings than anywhere else in the UK. Spooky! However our guide said this might have something to do with the large military base next door. The military is often up to strange and mysterious things. As a side note, we saw lots of tank crossing signs today…and even one no tanks allowed sign…it was a serious sign, no joke.
Silbury Hill – This hill is actually a 6-tiered chalk pyramid. At 37m, it is the size of one of the smaller pyramids in Egypt. Now the pyramid is covered in dirt & grass to form a large and slightly odd shaped hill. Archeological expeditions have been able to uncover very little from this site. It was not used for burial purposes and it’s reason for existence remains a mystery. Odder still is why someone decided to cover it up?
Salisbury Hill – Yes, the one from the Peter Gabriel song. It was lovely and green and treed and rolling, but otherwise not too exciting. We did listen to the song on the bus though 🙂
Our lunch stop was the village of Lacock. It was originally owned by the Talbot family but when they could no longer afford it during WWII the village was donated to the National Trust. As a result, you cannot own your home in Lacock, you can only rent it from the National Trust. Because of this, if you wish to live here you must trace your ancestry back to a Lacock resident. This helps it keep its charm and from becoming too commercial. And it really isn’t! The village consists of one square of four quaint roads. There is a lovely mix of architecture stretching from the 1300’s to the 1600’s. It creates a very old worldly feeling. Parts of the Pride & Prejudice miniseries was filmed here. You could just picture Mr. Darcy & Mr. Bingley ridding down the streets or Elizabeth & her sisters going in and out of the shops.
(There would be a photo of the town here but Kristin left her camera on the bus and Justine’s camera memory card doesn’t work with the iPad jack for some reason. You’ll just have to wait till we are home to see the photos…but take our word for it: they are worth the wait!)
The village was very lovely but we were most interested in the old abbey…Harry Potter was filmed here!! The Lacock abbey was the original church in the village. When Henry VIII changed the religion if his entire country the abbey was permitted to remain standing as long as it did not remain a church. It was converted into a manor house and all religious objects were removed. This was done so effectively that when we entered we found it hard to believe it had once been a chuch. But back to the exciting bit: Harry Potter! We have visited a few sites where tv shows or movies we’ve seen were show and it has always been “that could have been shot there” or “I might recognize that” but it wasn’t like that here. We weren’t even in the door yet when we saw the first familiar sight. Then we squealed and ran inside. It was like stepping into Hogwarts! It was so amazing! For the HP nerds out there, they shot a lot from the first 2 movies here, including the courtyard where Harry walks through the snow with Hedwig, general school corridors and a lot of the class rooms, including McGonagalls. There was even a cauldron marking the potions room 🙂
The final stop of the day was Castle Combe. If we had thought the last stop was small & cute, then this place would have to be described as tiny & adorable! You seriously couldn’t take a bad photo here if you tried! In 1962 the press actually named it the prettiest town in Britain. It’s really just one street making it’s way down a hill for about 5 blocks. Both sides are lined with picturesque cottages with overflowing flowerpots and window boxes.
To top it all off there is an energetic little stream at the bottom of the hill with a cluster of benches. We sat here for some peaceful reflection on our awesome day.
At the top of the hill were the towns two biggest sights: the church & The Manor House Hotel. The church was really beautiful, especially for such a rural setting. There was bright stained-glass and a weird faceless clock. Kristin did enjoy how you could see the gears! The hotel used to be an actual manor until the wool industry collapsed and the town lost it’s main source of income. Now it’s a hotel that looks like rows of cottages we dream of having. However they don’t seem to be in our price range right now as a night at the hotel can run you a bill of up to £1000! It seems to fit though when you consider to buy a cottage on the main street will cost you £3 million.
It was a short bus ride back to town and then supper time! Being the crafty savers we are we returned to the Huntsman Inn (where we went last night) and used our wristbands to get 20% again 😉 Tonight we both rocked the Mushroom, Cheese & Pepper Pie:
We have to make sure we remember to take the photo right away when we get pies because this is what they look like 2 minutes after the picture is taken:
In our opinion this is the only way to eat a meat pie!
Alexa, are you having a heart attack about how we mixed everything on our plate together in there?
What We Learned Today:
– If a British village looks like it is stuck in a time warp and still looks like it did in the 18th or 19th century it is because it suffered an economic hardship (such as the stream drying up or the wool industry collapsing). As a result people would have left the town and economic development would have stopped. We’re definitely not complaining! The villages we visited today we gorgeously stuck in the past!
– The roads are very skinny here! Today we drove down a road through the forest that barely seemed to fit our bus…then we found out it was a 2 way street! It would barely have passed for a shoulder at home! We understand that roads may have been built before cars existed, but it doesn’t make driving them any less nerve wracking.
– There are a lot of traffic circles in the UK. We drove through at least 20 today…Justine was counting (possibly as a way to stay awake while the van was driving?)
Love, Luck, Lambs & Large Rocks,
Oh we realize we never set a deadline for our last challenge. For those of you who haven’t submitted an answer you have until we post tomorrow! For those of you who have answered: How about another challenge!?
We went to Stonehenge today…you may remember reading about it…but just incase you forgot here’s a photo to jog your memory:
This place is one giant question mark! But that’s the fun…we want to hear your version of how to got there OR why it’s there OR what people used to do with it! You’ll get a point just for answering but get creative because you can earn up to 5 points if your answers really good! You’ve got until we post Sunday (so like 5pm Edmonton time)!