Monday, September 17, 2007 - Cheltenham, England
Morning came very very early. I can't remember the exact time, but I believe it was around 4 am. A and I were up, showered and ready to go for the day! And what a big day it would be! So big, in fact, I am breaking up today's post into 2 parts in order to keep the length of each story down. After all, it involves 2 separate trips to 2 separate places and all the details of full adventures in each one!
So A made some wonderful breakfast sandwiches for the road with the fresh English eggs (yes, they are different-and very yummy, I might add) that she bought the day before at the store. Well, I assume that's when she got them, I was 3/4 asleep walking through there, remember? Anyway, off we were to the town of Swindon. Our friends "J and A2" were on a month long vacation all over England and Ireland. I have known them for years from here in St. Louis through A, they've been friends for years. So we fetched them from the train station and off we were to drive in the darkness. I really dislike driving in the dark, I feel like you miss so much scenery!
Today's 1st significant destination is Stonehenge. I've always wanted to see it. Not because I believe it has any special powers or because I really know anything about it per se, I just always thought it was cool! A has a special membership granting the privilege of early admission and access beyond the observation path to be allowed directly up to the stones themselves! Anticipation was mounting for me, my mind was racing! "Ken" (the Australian narration character of A & P's TomTom GPS unit shown in the below photograph towards the bottom mounted to the windshield) showed we were getting very close. The sun had already began to come up. Our reservation time was 6:45 a.m. and the sun began to rise around 6:35 a.m. We were just driving along the very busy road passing by fields and hills and farms and we came to just another open field and A said, "There it is!"
Just like that, it was just sitting there in a field, unassumingly. I thought there would be big signs and big parking lots and a long path and for some reason, I thought it was near a cliff. Anyway, the above photo was actually taken after we left, but it gives you the idea better, of what I am saying here.
So, there it is just perched in the middle of several fields. The only thing to see around there, are the roads that go around it and maybe a farm house or two in the distance. They have cleverly tucked the car park, ticketing booths, gift shop and toilets behind the grading of the countryside across the street and there is nothing obstructing or taking away from the view of or from the stones. They built a tunnel to take you from the car park, past the ticket booths and down under the road itself that comes out up onto the grounds of Stonehenge's fields. Even then, it's all hidden from sight, fantastic! Glad I thought of it!
Of course the gift shop is closed because we are there before opening for the day. I never did find the souvenirs for Stonehenge in other places like I wanted, so I'm a little disappointed by that but I'll live. Walking through the tunnel, they had murals painted that implied the story of how the stones got here and just at the other end, there is one panel that shows how the stones would have possibly looked originally.
Once you have crossed through the tunnel and up the ramp past the interesting murals, you are on a path that takes you near the stones. Here is my first unobstructed, unfenced sight of the stones!!! As you can see we're not the only such privileged visitors with reservations on this cold early morning.
There is a guard on duty, a few guards actually. But we passed them by and walked right up to the stones! This is a treat! And what a privilege to cross the chain barrier and walk amongst the giants. It's called being 'inside the circle.' A special privilege indeed. I did my best to take photos that were free and clear of other people.
The stones are eroding and sometimes there is stuff growing on them.
Some are tall and thin. Some are shorter-more narrow.
Some still have the capstones up on top.
Some look like teeth. Notice the vehicles on the road in the background here.
Here's me. It's very cold and I have flip flops on! I didn't notice really.
I was very distracted with the cold feel of the old worn rock and the height of them all.
As you can imagine, some have fallen down over time while others remarkably have remained upright!
This is having fun with perspectives. I heart photography! This was a photo graphical feeding frenzy for me!
I took many-MANY-photos here. It was very difficult to decide which ones to show you and which ones to leave out!
Notice here, the 'lego' type precision carvings of notches on the tops of the stones which allowed the capstones to stay in place.
Here you can see on this fallen stone, the groove craved into it that fits onto the notch at the tops of the others.
I was also able to walk out around the stones and captured many postcard quality shots like this one. Thousands of people gather here for summer solstice. The observation grounds outside the chain barrier reminded me of a drive in without the poles. Like I said before, I didn't feel anything particularly mystical about being there. But I'm so privileged to have gotten such an opportunity! I shall never forget this! The weather was kinda cold and overcast but the sun did make short appearances from time to time.
After we spent a short time here in Wiltshire's Stonehenge, we next made our way to Bath. I will pick this up next time at Part B. Bath, England and the Roman Baths and Abbey. Stay tuned...