the hoofindex - rewind to the previous trip (hogmanay in edinburgh) - fast forward to the following trip (changing of the guard and tower bridge in london)
Road trip time! More to the point, Hoofy was starting to smell so it was time to take him to Bath. We planned an early morning for Saturday (13 Jan) to head south west, firstly down the mighty M1 towards London and then back out on the M4. The plan was to get to Bath as quickly as possible, and then take our time on the way home. So it was warp speed in the blue jet - rocketing down the M4 as fast as the pedal to the metal could achieve.
After a very uneventful and boring motorway trip...
...we finally got to the exit we were after. The Hoof'ess grabbed the Britain guidebook (from our library of travel guides - think we doubled Lonely Planets profits for 2006!) and started to tell me all about Bath. She proceeded to tell me that a local city ordinance requires all buildings, including new ones, to be built with Bath stone - a limestone with a warm honey colouring. As we were sitting in traffic I looked out of the side window and asked "does that include the local Qwik-Fit?". As strange as it seemed there was a modern Qwik-Fit tyre and muffler repair shop - nicely built out of Bath stone, with its neighbour BP also built with the same stone.
Despite these modern buildings, most of the rest of the city is in Georgian architecture - one of the finest examples and is therefore a World Heritage Site - although amazingly 80,000 people live in Bath.
Having reached central Bath we then thought perhaps we should first go to Bristol, check Bristol out and then come back and check into our boutique B & B hotel. So we sailed on through Bath, admiring some of the buildings as the Hoof threw the blue jet around the maze of streets and then back out the other side of the cluster of Georgian buildings and into the countryside. We did see a Bath stone Sainsbury's and a few more modern Bath stone buildings, but they were few and far between.
After the insightful notes on Bath, Little Miss Information started to read about Bristol. The first note being that heading into the city centre from the south is very dismal, and does not reflect the Bristol which has been redeveloping itself as a cultural, technological and educational city to rival other leading cities such as London and Manchester. And the book was right - heading in from the south did not give a good impression of Bristol.
After looking around Bristol city centre...
..we headed up to the towns most famous landmark, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The idea of building a bridge across the Avon Gorge originated in 1754, with a bequest in the will of Bristolian merchant William Vick, who left £1,000 invested with instructions that when the interest had accumulated to £10,000, it should be used for the purpose of building a stone bridge between Clifton Down and Leigh Woods, both of which were barely populated at the time. It wasn't until the 1820's that the account was looking healthy enough to look at building a bridge, and then finally in 1829 a design competition was held. The first competition was dodgy, the judge judged himself the winner... LOL. After a second competition a design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel was chosen. Building commenced in 1831, then stopped after the Bristol riots, and then started again in 1836. They ran out of money in 1843 having only built the stone towers, then another 19 years passed before they continued to build the thing - and finally in 1864 it opened. Not a bad build time for a bridge, 33 years to build - and 110 years from when good ol' Will saved his £1,000.
Cause the question on our minds was, about 500 meters up river the gorge ends and a nice easy, level bridge could've been built - probably with the original £1,000 - also wouldn't have taken so long to build or been as impressive. Can't imagine we would've visited that bridge.
It is an amazing bridge spanning the gorge, clinging to a rocky outcrop on the near side and cliff on the far side.
The bridge has long had a reputation as a suicide spot. Because of this, dedicated telephones with a direct line to The Samaritans were placed beside the bridge. Unfortunately these have been vandalised but there are still some helpful signs around.
Hoofy was damn impressed by the bridge, and the view down the hill. But thought given people seem to want to jump off the bridge, there was a business opportunity in setting up an A J Hackett bungy jump site on the bridge.
Looking back towards Bristol you can see the gorge finished just up river from the Clifton Bridge - much easier building site.
So having checked out Bristol is was back to Bath to check into our B & B hotel... and Ian, you'll love our hotel - look closely at the door awning.
Wentworth House Hotel - Ian, are these guys related to you?
Love the pink bed sheet - nice classy establishment. Hoofy did like the "hot tub" out the back - it was great on Saturday night to go for a soak.
So having dumped our gear, and ditched Maude the Ford, it was time to head into the town. It was getting dark so rather than wandering around the town and seeing bugger all, we decided to check out some local pubs and then a local restaurant which was voted top 5 Indian restaurant in Britain. And it was bloody good, probably the best indian we've had over here... and so after a few good local beers we headed back to Wentworth House to make use of the hot tub... and it was good. I slept like a log.
Sunday morning, and we had a very full day ahead. We had to check out Bath and then head to Avebury and Stonehenge. Then back home. To save a little walking time we drove down to the edge of town - and then hiked into the city centre where the Roman Bath's are located. The Bath's were built by the occupying Roman's back around 43AD. However over the subsequent years after the fall of the Roman Empire the Baths were lost. Then in the 18th century they were partially rediscovered. At this time there was a massive expansion of the city and the former roman baths were uncovered and rebuilt in Georgian style - including a pump house with purpose built theatre and assembly rooms.
The Hoof in front of the Pump House, the main entrance into the Roman Baths complex.
The inside of the museum was amazing, from street level you actually walk down a couple of stories to the level of the original roman bathing complex. And the actual complex was incredible, not just a nice warm bath. It included a temple to the local goddess, a special sacred building above the spring where the hot water rose thought to be provided by the goddess Sulis (for the Celts) or Minerva (for the Romans). And then there were the Roman baths, which included sauna hot rooms, cooling pools and massage rooms. It must have been an amazing site back in the day - imagine it back in 50AD. The place would have been the ultimate pleasure centre. They even bathed naked!
Hoofy was thirsty and considered having a wee drink. Apparently the water has plenty of minerals and used to be prescribed by the local "doctors" in the gallons - even up to 5 gallons a day. And when the Georgian pump house was first opened there were complaints from patrons who had to drink vast quantities of the water that there were no facilities for the after effect of drinking so much.
Down beside the original Roman baths. The floors and the base of the columns were original, but everything above that level was added after the 1800's.
Hoofy was impressed by the place, and the fact that the Bath abbey was unknowingly built right beside the baths.
After the tour we got the opportunity to drink some of the fresh spring water fresh out of the ground - still warm. And while the Hoof'ess is smiling, the water tasted real bad. I certainly wouldn't want to drink gallons of the stuff - the Hoof'ess couldn't even finish her glass.
Wandering back through the city we headed toward the car - it was time to go see some even older monuments. Built, or compiled a few thousand years before the romans turned up. Of course we found some great sights and signs on the way. The first was a great little town called Box. Yes, you read correct, no spelling mistake, its Box. I wondered if the cardboard box, or wooden box was invented in this town. The signs in the town were the best part...
Especially "Box Surgery" - what surgery do you think they do there.
Just outside of Box was the rolling south england countryside.
So we continued along nice country roads on the first great day in weeks. Heading towards Avebury which is the site of a large henge with several stone circles, a ditch and earthworks. Then about 5000 years later someone decided to build a village smack, bam in the middle - and even chucked a road through the centre. Clever people. The best part was, despite being in the middle of nowhere with farmland all around, there was a pay and display carpark! Being a pair of cheap Kiwi/Dutchie's we parked and ran in without paying... our excuse, the minimum time was a ridiculous 4 hours and we were only going to be there for maximum 30 minutes - otherwise we'd miss the sunset at Stonehenge.
The great thing is that unlike Stonehenge you can walk right up to these mystical stones, and touch them... but for good luck you have to go one step further. You have to find a stone which calls your name and...
...give it a great big Hoof hug. It is amazing to be hugging a human construction, erected from 2800BC and 2400BC. The work on the ditch has been carbon dated back to 3400BC but the construction must have been an enormous task. They didn't have wheelbarrows and spades, or even buckets - they have found deer antlers which were used as pick axes, shaped stones and pieces of bark to move earth around. Given our time limitation as you can't slow the sun setting we had to make tracks... the fastest way out was to actually climb the UNESCO World Heritage fence... I'm sure its not illegal as we were leaving. We hope.
Getting back to Maude there was no ticket waiting for us... so off we went again - stopping at a service station to get some sustenance. How about some Jammie Dodgers - the British Shrewsbury.
The road from Avebury to Stonehenge took us through the Salisbury Plains which are property of the armed forces. In fact we believe tanks are commonly seen.
I've seen some great crossing signs over the years, ones with pictures of ducks and ducklings, kangaroos, other wildlife, children, even trucks... but never tanks. Hoofy wanted to go tank spotting but we didn't have time - and they're probably all in Afghanistan.
So after a quick drive south through the tank zone we got to Stonehenge - and after paying a rather large sum to get in for some big ass stones... we were wondering around clicking some pics. Stonehenge was erected between 2500BC and 2000BC, but what for? Nobody actually knows, but the science of the site is amazing. If you look at the science the site’s alignment is focused along the lunar lines in a way that increases the "accuracy of precession", which is the amount that the Earth’s slight tilt on its axis, or “wobble” will eventually change the timing of lunar events. In layman's terms, this mean the site could have been set up to more accurately predict events taking place in the heavens above. On the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the sun shines directly through the centre of the structure, which given many of the cultural attitudes of sun worship that were rampant at the time. This could indicate a religious purpose.
Moving on from information for a moment, the place was amazing, and there was definitely something special about it, except for the A road which is about 400 metre's south of the site. The great thing about coming here in winter was that there were bugger all people around - we were two of only twenty or so people. Much better than the heaving mass that would be here on a beautiful summers day. And virtually no kids... now that's a real tangible benefit.
Wondering were all this information came from - well we walking round the site like a pair of muppets with these black speaker units held up to our ear getting told all about everything from the big stone arches in the middle to the little stone nearly covered by grass. Nothing was missed on this audio tour!
With the sun going down Hoofy was impressed by the sight of the setting sun striking through the henge.
Now this pic really shows what the site was like at sunset. Trust me, this is a Hoof original... taken on my Sony Ericsson Walkman phone... how good is that? FHM magazine, if you're looking for new photographer give me a call - I'm always keen to practice my photography skills on female subjects.
That's it for now... we'll keep you posted on the next road or plane trip! Rock on.
P.S. One of my colleagues innocently asked me today "have you got any holidays planned this year?" I really didn't know what to say... and ended up replying "got a few thoughts".