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You were right about the sheep: Two weeks on the backroads of England, Scotland & Wales

You were right about the sheep: Two weeks on the backroads of England, Scotland & Wales

Old Oct 10th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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You were right about the sheep: Two weeks on the backroads of England, Scotland & Wales

I know there are a lot of UK trip reports on this board, but I've finally decided to post mine because I received such great advice from so many of you; consider this my way of saying thanks. We also did a few things that might be called "off the beaten path," which may be of interest to some. I must warn you that my reports are wordy and detailed, so proceed at your own risk!

We were lucky enough to have at our disposal a comfortable sedan with automatic transmission and a navigation unit, which we drove to England from our home in Stuttgart (we found this to be cheaper than taking the train or flying to London and renting an equivalent car - and we REALLY wanted that automatic trans and navi for our first foray onto British roads). We aren't ashamed to admit that, as road-tripping Americans, we love to drive, and so the focus of this trip included scenic landscapes, awesome roads, hiking, and castles. You'll notice that we skipped London entirely and the largest city we visited was Edinburgh. As this was our first-ever trip to the UK, it was something of a "sampler" and I had some must-sees on my list, namely Stonehenge, Tintagel, the castles of northern Wales, the Scottish Highlands, and Edinburgh. You might think we were crazy to try to squeeze so much into the space of 2 weeks, but I planned the distances very carefully and we were quite pleased with the overall pace of the trip.

Here is our general itinerary (22 June - 8 July 2007):
Day 1 - Stuttgart to Metz, France
Day 2 - Metz to Chichester, England via the Euro Tunnel
Day 3 - Goodwood Festival of Speed
Day 4 - Salisbury & Stonehenge to Boscastle, Cornwall
Day 5 - northern Cornwall (Tintagel, Port Isaac)
Day 6 - Cornwall to Central Wales via Glastonbury
Day 7 - Central to Northern Wales via Snowdonia
Day 8 - Northern Wales (Conwy, Beaumaris, Caernarfon)
Day 9 - Northern Wales to Lake District
Day 10 - Lake District to Glen Coe, Scotland
Day 11 - Glen Coe area (hiking)
Day 12 - Glen Coe area (driving & hiking)
Day 13 - Glen Coe to Edinburgh via Stirling
Day 14 - Edinburgh (castle, Royal Mile, Mary King's Close)
Day 15 - Edinburgh to York via Hadrian's Wall
Day 16 - York to Dover (castle, WWII tunnels)
Day 17 - Dover to Stuttgart

DAY 1
Our trip began with me picking up my husband (hereafter DH) at the end of a work-related outing to Speyer. If you had told me two years ago that I would willingly hop in a car and drive alone to a strange city in a foreign country to pick up my husband, I probably would have laughed in your face. But frankly, armed with our trusty navi (a.k.a. Susie), a printout of the directions, and my cell phone, I felt pretty confident. Unfortunately I ran into bad traffic from the start, even though I avoided the construction on the A8 by taking the A81-to-A6 route via Heilbronn. I drove in heavy traffic all the way to Speyer, so I kept in touch with DH via cell phone to update him on my progress. I eventually found my way to our designated meeting point without any trouble. On the way out of town we drove right past the famous Speyer Dom, so at least I can say I’ve seen it from the outside.

It took us about two hours to get to our hotel in Metz. We accidentally followed Susie’s instructions instead of paying attention to my directions from the hotel website, so we took the “scenic” route right through the middle of Metz. Let’s just say Susie will usually get you where you want to go, but she isn’t the brightest bulb in the pack when it comes to deciding which is better: busy surface streets at rush hour or the autoroute that circles ‘round the city.

We checked in at the Hotel Ibis Metz Nord with a nice lady who made my day by complimenting my French. (I studied French for 5 years but that was a LONG time ago, and my French skills have definitely suffered after spending 2 years in Germany.) Our room was very spartan and a bit lacking in the towel department, but for 51 Euro, you can hardly expect luxury, and it was exactly what we needed for a quick overnight stop. We had dinner in the nearly empty hotel restaurant. I had a perfectly decent entrecôte et frites (steak and fries) and DH had a Salade Nicoise. We turned in at a reasonable hour, planning to get off to an early start for Calais and the EuroTunnel. Tomorrow the real adventure begins!
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 01:40 PM
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As a European I love road trips too! Don't be ashamed of it. I look forward to the next installment.
Next time if you want to spend more time in the north of the UK take a ferry from Holland to Hull, Newcastle os Scotland (can't remember where it goes to offhand), cuts a bit of the boring motorway stuff out and is an interesting overnight experience, complete with naff Abba tribute band and slightly off key pianoman in the bar! Food is good though.
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Old Oct 10th, 2007, 02:24 PM
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Off to a great start! Please do include the details - I love them!
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 05:05 AM
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hetismij, I've heard the ferry is fun! In retrospect that would have probably been a better way to go.

DAY 2: METZ TO CHICHESTER
We were up at 6:30 and enjoyed the nice breakfast buffet at the Ibis (7 Euro each; croissants, ham, cheese, yogurt, juice, coffee). It was pouring rain when we checked out at 7:45, but we made good time to Calais, arriving in almost exactly four hours. When we got to the imposing row of ticket booths for the Euro Tunnel, we had to wait forever in what is supposed to be the “fast and easy” self-check-in line (for passengers with pre-purchased tickets) because someone in front of us was having trouble with the machine. When our turn finally came, it was a breeze – just put in your credit card to identify your reservation, confirm your info, grab the paper hanger for your rearview mirror, and off you go! We were scheduled for the 13:50 train but we were early and were able to get on the 13:20 train for no extra charge.

We followed the signs, winding through a maze of lanes that ended at the passport control booth. (Apparently there is now officially a little chunk of England in France and vice versa, so they can handle border security before you actually get on the train.) After clearing passport control, we found ourselves heading through another maze of lanes, then we drove down a long ramp towards the train, which looked a bit like a long, silver double-decker bus, except with smaller windows, being pulled by a high-speed locomotive. The platform is exactly even with the bottom level of the train, so you literally drive right on board. We didn’t see how you drive onto the upper level, as they weren’t loading cars on top; apparently the EuroTunnel has not been as popular as anticipated (probably because it’s so darn expensive!) and the trains are rarely, if ever, full. We drove forward through several compartments before coming to a stop. Each compartment holds three or four cars front to back. A digital display and an audio announcement instructed us to put on our parking brake. Standing between cars while the train is underway is forbidden, in the unlikely event that a car rolls or the train comes to a screeching halt. A woman came through and shut a pair of heavy metal doors that roll down between the carriages.

The 30-minute trip went by in a flash and, aside from being a bit bumpier than I expected, was quite uneventful. You can’t see a thing out the windows and you never even get a glimpse of the Channel because the stations on either end are quite a ways inland. (Later in our trip we met some Americans who were talking about going from London to Calais just to say they had been on the EuroTunnel. DH told them they would be better off saving their money, driving their car into their garage, closing the door, having a couple of people shake the car from side to side for half an hour, then driving out.)

DH volunteered to be the first guinea pig to drive on the wrong side of the road. (Honestly I think he just didn’t want to navigate, because he gets carsick when he has to read maps.) As we set out onto the motorway we passed a little multilingual sign reminding us to drive on the left. It was still quite early in the afternoon so we decided to take the scenic route along the southern coast of England rather than heading towards London on the motorway and then cutting south as my ViaMichelin directions instructed. It’s a terribly odd feeling, driving on the left; everything is backwards – on and off ramps are switched, the left lane is the fast lane, roundabouts go clockwise instead of counterclockwise, etc. We headed through lush farmland and pastures filled with fluffy white sheep. (Oh the sheep! Little did we know how many sheep we were going to see on this trip.) The road was narrow and twisty, sometimes flanked on either side by high hedge rows, occasionally making ninety-degree turns as we skirted a field or pasture. DH was happy. We drove through the picturesque towns of Rye and Wichelsea, full of quaint stone cottages and tiny gardens overflowing with early summer blooms.

We decided to stop to see William the Conqueror’s castle at Hastings. We found the town to be rather run-down, with a stretch of gravelly beach and a long row of tacky souvenir shops and greasy restaurants along the waterfront. We had a little trouble figuring out where to park and wound our way through the old town for ten minutes before making it back to the shore and a big public carpark. Unfortunately the parking machine only took change and all we had were paper bills that I had gotten at my bank in Stuttgart, so I ran across the street to break a bill on a lousy soft-serve ice cream cone. I came back and put £3 in the machine for three hours of parking. We ate our lunch of crackers and cheese at a picnic table on the beach (we brought a cooler full of snacks with us from Stuttgart), but it was incredibly windy so it was hard to enjoy the sunny weather. Then we headed out in search of a route up to the castle, which looked to be no more than a smattering of ruined walls perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the town.

We found “Castle Hill Road,” which sounded promising, but there were no signs to speak of for the castle until we were almost at the top of the hill. Then we found the narrow dirt track to the castle completely blocked by service vehicles, so we went around the long way and came out on an open field on top of the cliff with a view out over Hastings and the castle ruins. Getting into the castle itself (or what little remains of it) would have cost us $15 so we turned back and just looked at the ruins from afar. We couldn't believe how run-down the entire site was - this was William the Conqueror's fortress for goodness' sake! I hardly expected a reconstructed castle, but the whole place was dingy and littered with trash. From our vantage point we could see a large amusement complex along the shore below us, complete with go-kart track, trampolines, mini-golf course, and carnival rides. We followed a sign leading back down the hill to the old town, only to find ourselves walking down a narrow concrete staircase that stank of urine and rotting garbage. We saw the word “poopie” spray-painted in green letters on the wall, which pretty much described our impression of Hastings. At the bottom we came across a guy stumbling up the stairs who insisted that he had not had too much to drink, then we walked through a dark, unpleasant passageway that emptied us out on a street lined with video game parlors and a casino.

We made our way back to the car park and went out to sit on the pebbly beach for a little while, but it was so windy it was difficult to carry on a conversation. Around 3:45, having used less than two hours of our parking allotment, we got back in the car and set the navi for our hotel, the Sussex Pad in Lancing, a small college town near Chichester, which I had found with great difficulty because all of the hotels in the vicinity of the Goodwood Festival of Speed were apparently booked months ago. We plugged in the address and happily left Hastings behind.

It was about an hour’s drive through more rolling green countryside, skirting Brighton, to Lancing. I spotted the Sussex Pad Hotel just off to the right side of the A27. DH had done really well so far – he only started drifting over to the curb once! The Sussex Pad is a perfectly acceptable two-star hotel and our room, the “Moet Chandon” (all the rooms are named after Champagnes) was traditionally and comfortably furnished, with an aging but serviceable bathroom.

We went down to dinner at about 7:45 and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the hotel's dining room and its menu. For starters, DH had Scottish smoked salmon and I had a crab salad with crème frâiche, cucumber, and walnut dressing. Then we both had langoustine ravioli with steamed spinach and a pepper sauce. For dessert, DH had chocolate bread pudding with molten banana filling and I had a trio of crème brulées (ginger, orange, and pistachio). Everything was uniformly tasty. After dinner we settled our hotel bill, since we would be leaving early in the morning, then headed out the door intending to take a short walk. A man who had been sitting at the bar saw us leaving and asked if we needed anything. We told him we thought we would walk to the nearby Lancing College chapel but he said the path was closed at night. He pointed out a mown trail that we could take behind the hotel to get a nice view of the chapel. The path took us to the top of a grassy hill, where the promised view of the elegant Gothic chapel, all lit up against the night sky, was quite stunning.

We have a big day tomorrow: the much-anticipated Race Day at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, one of the most famous car shows in the world.


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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 05:29 AM
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Very nice so far. This sounds like my 'mad dash across the UK' tour I did in 2000 - London to Inverness to Skye to Conwy to London in 2 weeks. It was fun and stimulating, but I've had enough of a different B&B every night. My trip next summer will be all Scotland, 3 nights in each spot.

I can't wait to hear more about your sheep encounters
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 07:41 AM
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hausfrau, your report is off to a great start!

We've been to England many times now but I still remember my first impressions of fields of fluffy sheep and lush, overgrown greenery and blossoms everywhere. And then there were the bushy hedgerows beside the narrow, one track, country roads that prevented anyone from seeing any scenery for miles and miles and miles!
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 08:09 AM
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Looking forward to the completion of your report as we are planning something similar for next May. This is going to be a great help!
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 10:51 AM
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Hausfrau: well done! want more! I know it's hard to find the time, but you are reminding me of many trips to England, though you are so far going to places we've not been - we're following you along, so keep on driving!!
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 01:13 PM
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Hastings Castle was never "William the Conqueror's fortress".

William built a wooden fortress at Hastings in 1066 - at a considerable distance from Battle, where the battle took place and an abbey was built in 1070 and maintained to commemorate those killed in the battle. He then ordered the wooden fortress at Hastings to be destroyed in 1070, and replaced by a stone structure which would be inhabited by a lieutenant. By then William had long moved to London, and was ordering the erection of dozens of stone fortresses all over England. He might have visited the new construction at Hastings - but he certainly never lived there, or used it for anything.

The 1070 Hastings Castle - which was never of any significance, historically, militarily or as a commemoration of the 1066 battle - was then subject to significant sea erosion. As with all ruined castles, we regard it as vandalism to "reconstruct" it - behaviour we think best left to the Disney Corporation, and quite inappropriate for an ancient building.
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 01:32 PM
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Sorry, you didn't like Hastings. We went twice for the entire day when we were in Sussex for a week. We loved it. Parts of it were kind of tacky and tattered but we loved the beach-based fishing fleet, the filming spots associated with our favourite series 'Foyle's War' and the cheap shopping and eating choices. We didn't go to the castle, for the reasons flanneruk has noted above. Were you able to drive past/see Beachy Head?
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 01:46 PM
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hi, Hausfrau,

I'm agog waiting to read how you got on in Cornwall. More sheep?



regards, ann
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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 02:02 PM
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Hey, glad to see I've hooked some of you who are willing to slog through my long posts! Thanks so much for the kind words and encouragement.

flanner, as a huge castle fan (of the authentic fortress variety), I completely agree with what you said about reconstructed (read: fake) castles, and I understand the history at Hastings, but I was surprised at how trashy the area was around the castle ruins. It was quite a mess, which was a shame because it could be a lovely spot.

rickmav, obviously 2+ hours isn't enough time to come away with an accurate impression of any city; I'm just telling it like it was for us on our quick visit. We didn't see Beachy Head, as driving the coastal route was not part of our plan and I didn't even know about it at the time.

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Old Oct 11th, 2007, 02:04 PM
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This next post is for the automotive enthusiasts among you.

DAY 3: THE GOODWOOD FESTIVAL OF MUD
We got up at a painfully early 6 a.m. (aren’t we on vacation?) so we could leave for Goodwood promptly at 7. We had requested a boxed breakfast to take with us and the woman at the front desk said it would be brought to our room, but it didn’t show up, so we went down to the desk and flagged someone down – it turned out to be the same man who had suggested our little stroll last night. There must have been a miscommunication because he came back from the kitchen a moment later with a bulging sack (obviously ready to go for us) stuffed with two ham sandwiches, two cheese-and-tomato sandwiches, a plastic carton full of cherries, two apples, two oranges, and two tomatoes. Enough for a small army! We ate a couple of the sandwiches and saved the rest for future meals on the road.

We headed west to Goodwood in a steady rain. Covering a sprawling 12,000 acres of rolling Sussex countryside, the Goodwood Estate has been the home of the Dukes of Richmond for over three hundred years. In addition to a long tradition of horse racing, golf, and shooting sports, Goodwood is steeped in motor racing history and, since 1993, has been the home of the Goodwood Festival of Speed, purportedly the “world’s biggest celebration of the motor car.”

We hit a long line of traffic waiting to enter the parking lot (I use the term “lot” loosely) but we finally made our way to a space in the huge, already water-logged field. We were dressed as well as we could be for the weather – I was wearing just about every layer I had brought with me on the trip: t-shirt, lightweight sweatshirt, fleece, and rain jacket, along with zip-off nylon hiking pants and hiking boots – but our spirits were definitely a bit deflated by the prospect of a long wet day ahead. Fortunately we fell on the high end of the scale in terms of preparedness in comparison to many of our fellow Goodwood spectators. I couldn’t believe how many women I saw dressed in white summer suits and dresses, high heels, sandals, or ballet flats…what were they thinking??

We had pre-purchased our festival tickets online; for an additional £10 we bought a program and miniature radio (which allows you to listen to the continual broadcast from the famous “Hill Climb” no matter where you are at the festival) and started the long trek to the show grounds. As we approached the entrance we passed the assembly area at the base of the Hill Climb, which was crammed with specimens of just about every supercar known to man…Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Maseratis, a Bugatti Veyron, the new Skyline GTR in disguise, a Tesla electric sportscar, the new Audi R8…it was a veritable sea of automotive testosterone. We arrived at the main entrance around 8:30 and headed for the Hill Climb track, a 1.16-mile paved course that starts near Goodwood House and ends somewhere in the woods above. We found a good spot along the hay bales lining the course with a view of about 200 yards of the track…and stood there for nearly four hours. In the rain. Well, it did stop for about ten minutes around mid-morning.

The Hill Climb runs throughout the day and the cars are divided into various classes by year and type. After the parade of supercars, we watched almost all of the classes come through... hundreds of cars (and motorcycles too) from every epoch of racing history: Grand Prix, Le Mans, CanAm, Indy, rally, touring, F1...they all made a good show, revving engines and sending up great plumes of spray as they whizzed by. We saw one of six "Blitzen Benz" – the car that hit 140 mph at Daytona in 1911, becoming the fastest car in the world...the one-of-a-kind 1923 Thomas Special "Babs", recovered and rebuilt after being buried at Pendine Sands along with the remains of Land Speed Record breaker Parry Thomas after his tragic 171-mph crash in 1927...a 1956 Jaguar D-Type "Long-Nose" Le Mans car driven by British F1 driver David Coulthard...and the 1985 Audi Quattro S1 driven to victory in the Pike's Peak (Colorado) Hill Climb by Michele Mouton, the first woman and foreigner to do so and the only woman to ever win a World Rallye Championship event. Louis Hamilton, native son and current Formula 1 darling, ran the course twice in the 2006 McLaren Mercedes F1 car, stopping right in front of us to wave to the crowd. Some American stock cars even made an appearance, including the "High-Risk" custom-built Corvette and "Hurst Hemi Under Glass" Plymouth Barracuda, both "wheelie cars" capable of prolonged forward motion on their rear wheels.

Around noon the Red Arrows (the Royal Air Force stunt team) performed a show, which was quite spectacular, given that they had to fly below the clouds. We eventually decided to check out the sprawling paddock area, where you can get up close and personal with the cars and drivers. This is one of the features for which Goodwood is famous; in a typical race setting most of the fans never get anywhere near the paddock. We bought cups of hot chocolate to warm up and wandered around, listening to the revving engines and checking out the many rare pieces of machinery on display. We noticed that quite a few cars did not go out on the track today due to the rain, including what looked to be one of this year’s winning Audi Le Mans cars.

We stopped further up the Hill Climb to watch some more historic cars pass, then made our way up a long muddy slog of a hill to the Forest Rally track. Along the way we passed an off-road course where people were paying £30 to go for a ride in Bowler Wildcat racing SUVs. Mud was flying everywhere and I’m sure they were having a rollicking good time, but £30 seemed like a major rip-off for one lap. We were passed by tractors pulling trailers full of spectators, but we toughed it out in the mud. They added a new jump to the rally course this year, so we followed the signs along a muddy trail through the woods, leaving the crowds far behind. We eventually found the jump and camped out under our umbrellas to watch for a while. The cars (both modern and historic rally cars) weren’t getting much speed due to the muddy conditions, but a few got some pretty good air. There were several WRC drivers in attendance, familiar to us from last year’s Rallye Deutschland, including British Ford Stobart driver Matthew Wilson and Australian Subaru driver Chris Atkinson. The announcer reported that the times were much slower than usual due to the “particularly slippery” and “fluid” conditions (understatement of the year).

On our way back down to the main showground, we bought a couple of cheeseburgers for a whopping £12 (That’s $24! For two burgers!) and made the mistake of adding a dollop of mustard to our buns. I don’t know where the English get their ideas about mustard, but this stuff was like eating fire! I saw one guy put a hearty portion on his burger, take a bite, and nearly choke before smearing it all off onto his plate, so apparently we weren’t the only ones to be taken by surprise.

There was more to see of the show, including lots of exhibits and shops near the paddock area, but our pants were starting to soak through and, let’s face it, we were pretty cold and miserable by this point. Plus we had a bit of a drive ahead of us to get to Salisbury, our destination for the night. We managed to get our boots off and change into dry pants without getting mud all over the interior of the car (we didn’t really want to make a mess of the car only a day into our trip). My boots had completely soaked through so I turned the heat on full blast and put my frigid toes over the vents. We later heard that this was the worst weather they had experienced at Goodwood in the 14-year history of the show.

It took us about ninety minutes to drive to the Cricketfield House Hotel on the outskirts of Salisbury. We found the hotel without too much trouble, although this time we had to rely more on Susie than on the directions I had printed off the hotel website, which didn’t make any sense at all. A cheerful older gentleman checked us in and helped us to our room – a “cottage style” place on the second floor, done in pretty floral prints with a springy bed, nice clean bathroom with tiny stand-up shower, and a view into the back garden. We decided to crash in our room and snacked on the leftovers from our breakfast rather than going into town for dinner. We unpacked everything we had brought with us today, washed out our mud-soaked pants in the shower and hung everything up to dry. Before turning in for the night, we watched a really interesting BBC program about the southern coast of Wales – which, naturally, was one of the places we would not be hitting on this trip! Tomorrow, we plan to see a bit of Salisbury and stop at Stonehenge before pressing on to Cornwall.
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Old Oct 13th, 2007, 03:58 AM
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DAY 4: HOW TO GET A PARKING TICKET IN SALISBURY & THE WONDERS OF STONEHENGE

It was raining (again) this morning, so
we weren’t in much of a hurry to get going. We experienced our first “full English breakfast” at the Cricketfield
House Hotel – all the fruit, cereal, and yogurt you can eat, followed by a huge plate of eggs made to order, accompanied by roasted tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, bacon, sausage, and an endless supply of toast – and realized that if we get this sort of breakfast at every hotel, we aren’t going to have to spend a lot of money on lunch. We checked out around 10:00 and followed our host’s directions into Salisbury, parking in a pay lot near the cathedral, which we wanted to see before heading to Stonehenge. We put several coins in the parking meter, giving us about two hours, which we assumed would be plenty of time to visit the cathedral.

I should note that I became interested in visiting Salisbury after reading Edward Rutherford’s lengthy but fascinating novel Sarum, which is a fictionalized history of the settlement of the Salisbury area from pre-historic to modern times. The construction of the cathedral is a major theme of the novel.

We crossed a stone bridge over a slow-moving canal and glimpsed Salisbury's quaint shopping district lined with medieval houses before passing through the High Street Gate and entering the famous Cathedral Close. This is a series of regal homes and church outbuildings - some designed by the famed architect Christopher Wren – flanking smooth green lawns. In former times the church canons were given allocations of land here upon which to build their homes. Before us loomed the 404-foot Gothic spire – the tallest in England and the highest pre-1400 spire in the world – of Salisbury Cathedral. We forgot all about the parking meter when we walked through the main entrance and decided to sign up for the 90-minute Tower Tour (£11 for the two of us). We had some time before the tour started to wander the long nave of the cathedral and its double transepts, admiring the simple grandeur of the interior. The nave is lined with the tombs of famous crusaders, bishops, and war heroes. The intricately carved choir stalls are quite impressive, and in the north aisle you can see what is believed to be the oldest clock in the world, dating from 1386. We also visited the lovely cloisters and the octagonal Chapter House, which is home to one of four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta (penned in 1215), one of the most important documents in the history of democracy, serving as the basis for the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

We assembled for our tour near a model of the cathedral at the rear of the building and were introduced to our friendly volunteer guide, an older woman who instructed us (wisely, it turned out) to leave our bags in lockers in preparation for the long ascent to the heights of the spire. We stopped at various points along the way while our guide provided a colorful narrative of the cathedral’s construction. Salisbury is unique in that the cathedral (the mastermind of Bishop Richard Poore and the architect Elias de Derham) was built to replace the old Norman cathedral at nearby Old Sarum, and the new town of Salisbury literally grew up around it. This is why the cathedral’s setting is so spectacular; the area around it was purposefully left open for the expansive Greens and the buildings of the Close. In contrast, most medieval cathedrals were built on the sites of previous churches, crowded between existing buildings.

Salisbury is unique in other ways as well. Whereas most cathedrals were constructed over a period of centuries and so represent a hodgepodge of architectural styles, Salisbury Cathedral was completed (save for the spire) in the relatively short span of 38 years (1220-58) and thus has a consistent Gothic style. The construction of the spire in 1320 – not to mention the fact that it is still standing, albeit 2½ feet off the vertical, over 680 years later – represents a marvel of medieval engineering. The cathedral’s foundations are only four feet deep due to the high water table, and by logic alone could not have supported the weight of the originally unplanned spire, but thankfully the entire structure sits on a supportive bed of gravel. Over the centuries the building has shifted and settled, and we got an excellent view of the subtly bending columns from the elevated arcade at the rear of the church. This is no trick of the eye – the columns really are leaning outwards (on the order of 18 inches as I recall) under the massive weight of the spire!

As we proceeded up into the tower, we got an up-close look at the amazing timber framing under the roof, some of which has been repaired over the centuries. One whole side of the roof was replaced in the last decade; the funding required for the constant repair and maintenance of this structure must be mind-boggling. We arrived at the top of the bell tower just in time to hear the bells ring out the noon hour – the famous four-pitch tune of the Westminster Chime followed by twelve reverberating bongs of the great bronze bell. We proceeded up a rickety wooden spiral staircase (not recommended for those with a fear of heights) and got a good look at the intricate wooden scaffolding that supports the spire itself. You can’t actually ascend the spire (this would involve climbing a series of scary-looking ladders), but we did go out onto the balcony circling the top of the bell tower and got some great views of Salisbury and the surrounding countryside. Fortunately the rain had let up, although it was rather windy up there! We looked down at the red-brick buildings of the Cathedral Close and out across the plain to the water meadows dotted with white sheep, the winding River Avon and, way off in the distance, the distinct rounded form of the ancient Norman hill fort of Old Sarum.

After descending back to ground level and receiving our “I’ve Reached the Heights” pins from our guide, we wandered out across the front lawn, circled the cathedral, peeked around the Close, and then headed back into town. We walked up and down the main shopping street, looking into a few stores to see if we could find a good umbrella, because we were starting to realize that the two travel models that we had brought along might not be sufficient for England’s turbulent weather. Surprisingly we didn’t find a lot of umbrellas – certainly no sturdy wind-resistant ones – so we gave up for the time being and ambled back to the parking lot.

As we approached the car, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach as I remembered the parking meter. Sure enough, our time had expired more than an hour previously and there was a white envelope on our windshield with a £30 ticket inside. I think I said a bad word at that point. Only two days into our trip and we already had a parking ticket! And to think we’ve managed to live in Germany for two years without a single parking violation.

As we headed out of Salisbury, we passed very close to the hill fort of Old Sarum. If we had more time I might have liked to stop there, but at least we got a good view from a distance. We continued onwards to Stonehenge, which is about eight miles north of Salisbury. I had debated whether we should visit this king of all tourist traps, particularly after I found out that the special after-hours access to the site (available by prior reservation through English Heritage and various tour companies) was not being offered at the time of our visit. Nevertheless, I couldn’t imagine passing so close to one of England’s most legendary sites without giving it at least a quick look.

We were not disappointed. Even though we arrived in the middle of the afternoon, the crowds were not bad, perhaps kept away by the inclement weather. It had actually stopped raining and the sky was blanketed with billowing clouds in a thousand shades of gray, making for a spectacular backdrop as we approached the stone circle across a gently undulating plain of emerald grass. We took the audio tour (£13 with the general entrance fee for two people) which was excellent – informative without being cheesy. The narrator speculates on the ancient origins of the site, dating to about 3000 B.C., including the great distances over which the stones were mysteriously transported and the site’s purported uses as a religious shrine and astronomical calendar.

We circled the stones on a grassy path, which is marked occasionally by numbers corresponding to points on the audio tour. While I had heard complaints that the path keeps you disappointingly far from the stones, preventing you from viewing the ancient carvings, there are no ugly barriers as I had imagined, only unobtrusive low ropes. I personally didn’t want to see the stones swarming with people, and I actually got some good pictures despite the fact that we were in the company of several hundred other visitors. Most everyone was quiet and well-behaved, and standing on that wind-swept plain beneath the brooding sky, I certainly felt a bit of the mystery and mysticism of the place.

Before returning to the car we decided to invest in the English Heritage Overseas Visitor Pass, which would get us into other English Heritage-operated sites and partner sites in Wales and Scotland for free or at a reduced rate. We didn’t start our journey west to Cornwall until after 4 p.m. and ran into more rain along the way. As we left the Stonehenge area we encountered a long traffic jam on the two-lane highway, the cause of which was a terrible accident involving a tour bus. The entire left front corner of the bus was smashed in and we just hoped that no one was sitting up front at the time.

After passing into Cornwall, we left the main highway and set off across a windswept landscape of hedges and open fields. Finally the ocean came into view, a broad swath of blue-gray extending to the horizon. We took a series of narrow winding roads to Boscastle (Susie has some pretty weird ideas about what are considered "main roads" in England), and literally stumbled across our hotel, the charming white-washed Bottreaux, as we came down the hill into the village. It was 7:30 and the front door was locked, so I rang the bell four or five times, to no avail. There was a phone by the door as well, so I picked up the receiver and called the number indicated, which finally succeeded in rousing someone to let us in.

Our room was tiny and artistically spartan, with stark white walls, a white bedspread, one small ultramarine oil painting of the ocean, and a massive wooden cupboard, with a nice modern bathroom done in white-and-green tile. We’d been advised by our host to get to the pub next door before 8:30 if we wanted a meal, so we headed over as quickly as we could.

The Napoleon is a 16th-century pub with loads of atmosphere – low ceilings, lots of dark wood, and a local clientele. Right after we ordered, the lights flickered and went out: a power outage caused by a localized storm. We nursed our Cornish ales (Tinner’s and Tribute) for a while until finally our waitress came around and said they didn’t expect the power to come back on until 10:00. The only things they could make without power were smoked salmon and crab salad. We ordered the smoked salmon and were busy digging in when the lights came on again. We were hungry so we decided to go ahead with our original main course orders. DH had a Cornish rump steak piled with mushrooms, tomatoes, onion rings, and chips. I had the crab cakes, which looked and tasted like something out of the freezer aisle, and a side salad to which I grudgingly applied a foil packet of "salad sauce" (a.k.a. mayonnaise). Despite the less-than-stellar food, the place had good entertainment value – the group of locals next to us were celebrating a birthday and a couple of young German guys puffed away on their cigarettes in the corner (a ban on smoking in restaurants goes into effect in England on July 1st).

Tomorrow, we explore Tintagel, legendary birthplace of King Arthur.
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Old Oct 13th, 2007, 05:36 PM
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Very interesting report, hausfrau! The details of Salisbury Cathedral were fascinating and I ordered the book after reading them.

Please keep it coming . . .
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Old Oct 13th, 2007, 10:35 PM
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Great report hausfrau. Really enjoying all the "englishness". I love touring through the UK, but that weather, boy can it make or break a day. Keep going, we're listening. Schnauzer
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 03:06 AM
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hi, Hausfrau,

loved your description of your first night in Cornwall. Our levels of service [and cooking by the sound of it] certainly do have a way to go - we sometimes find this ourselves.

I hope that the food and the weather improve - nothing to be done about the roads, I'm afraid.

looking forward to the rest of your report,

regards, ann
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Old Oct 14th, 2007, 09:08 AM
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LCBoniti, I hope you enjoy the book! It was amazing to see the spire that "should" have collapsed long ago, still standing tall.

Schnauzer, thanks! As for the weather... well, you'll just have to keep reading to see how the weather turned out! ;-)

Ann, the Cornish food and weather get better on Day 5! And the roads were all part of the fun.

I meant to start posting links to my photos with each day's report and forgot to do it. So here are the first few days:

Day 2 - Chunnel & Hastings
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hausfra...7601987263232/

Day 3 - Goodwood Festival of Speed
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hausfra...7601987320688/

Day 4 - Salisbury & Stonehenge
http://www.flickr.com/photos/hausfra...7601988205360/
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Old Oct 15th, 2007, 06:26 AM
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Great report! I also enjoyed the details, having been myself and having read Sarum

Rutherford has several books written in the same style; New Forest, London, Russka, Princes of Dublin, and the one mentioned, Sarum.
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Old Oct 15th, 2007, 07:00 AM
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Enjoying this - keep it coming.

Please Please Please don't say Chunnel, it sounds really naff (makes you sound like someone from the USA). We never call it that.
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