As Keanu Reeves once said......"Woah".
We have seen so many castles this week, I don't think I can go back to regular house living. I've decided I need drawbridges and portcullises, outer and inner walls, a great hall, servants' quarters, disgustingly opulent decorations and a garderobe. Castles all the way, baby!
Back to the beginning anyway.
Jax, Greg and I loaded up the Punto and headed for Windsor Castle. (Greg, by the way, has christened the hire car "Flicker", because it has an abundance of lights that just start flickering on the dashboard, then go out before you can figure out what's wrong.) Windsor is the largest castle in Europe. Or maybe the largest lived-in castle. Or maybe just the largest castle in the UK. Either way, it's bloody huge and impressive. No wonder the Queen gets out there as often as possible.
We had a warden take us on a private tour, and while passing under the murder holes he cracked jokes about making any Australians who voted for a republic stand under them! We stayed quiet at this unexpected outburst of imperial pride. ;)
The Queen WASN'T in residence (such a pity, said the warden, she would have surely invited you in for cucumber sandwiches), so we got to see the back gardens and terrace, which are normally closed when Lizzie's at home. We then saw Queen Mary's doll house - like the castle but in miniature - more impressive in many ways! We also trodded through 26 state rooms, all gorgeous and worthy of a king, queen, president or even on the odd occasion, Australian prime minister!
We left Windsor and drove past Eton on the way home. You can see Eton Chapel from Windsor Castle - in fact one of the kings built the St George Chapel in Windsor Castle because he was jealous of how lovely the Eton one was! We saw a few of the Eton buildings, but didn't stop. We did take the mickey out of the English public school system while driving though!
We had a big stir-fry at home for dinner, then of course Greg and I forsook precious sleep to watch more of Jax's Sky television. It's so addictive!
We said goodbye and thanks to Jax, Ben and Ollie, and started the big journey north. Well, actually, more south-west, as our first stop was the legendary Stonehenge. It was pretty awesome to come over a hill and BAM! there it is. Standing mysteriously and gracefully in the early morning sun. We got there about 10:30 and already there were loads of people strolling around it, taking pictures and oohing. When all is said and done it is actually very impressive. The stones are HUGE....and that's just from your point of view behind the fence about 10 to 15 metres away from the monument. I'd love to get in close, but I think I'd have to become a Druid to do so!
We left as masses more tourists arrived, and tacked north, heading towards another Neolithic monument - Avebury. This is a giant circle of standing stones about a mile in diameter. It actually encompasses part of the village of Avebury itself. There's even a big road through two of the stones! Still, it manages to deeply impress. We walked along the circle, then headed into the local museum, which had a bright and colourful display about Neolithic man etc. The question of "What the hell was Neolithic man doing hauling stones from miles away and yanking them upright?" can never really be answered completely - but Greg is still dead keen on them as astronomical tools. All the solstice alignment stuff tends to back that up.
After Avebury we drove to the nearby Silbury Hill, a much less well known monument. It's a earthen hill, but constructed entirely by man. It's wide and 40 metres high. It's bizarre. The Romans used to use it as a marker on the way to Bath. You can't walk on it because there are all sorts of plants growing on it not seen elsewhere. It's also bloody steep and slippery!
We also walked up to the West Kennet Long Barrow. It's one of those strange monuments that is phenomenally brilliant, but quite untouched. You have to want to get there to get there. You can't really miss Stonehenge, and as I said above, it's quite touristy. West Kennet is about half a mile off the road up a hill - and I'm SO not good with hills! But it was worth it. It's the longest barrow (burial chamber) in Europe, stretching 400 metres. You could only go in a small part on one end, but it was cool....a 10 metre long passage with chambers coming off the sides. It also had a good view from the top.
We then headed towards Bath, our stop for the night. We grabbed a nice room at the Bath YHA, which was a renovated old manor house on one of the hills surrounding the main town. We headed down the hill to take the "Bizarre Bath" comedy walk. This was only 5 pounds, but it was the most crowded tour we've been on. We reckon at least 150! The tour guide was great, cracking jokes and doing magic tricks etc. Afterwards we got a kebab and headed home to bed!
Another lovely day - and a great one to see Bath. We took in the famous Roman Baths (which gave the town its name and are now responsible for the place being Britain's only World Heritage listed city). They're quite amazing - growing from just a hot spring initially used as a worship site by the Britons, then as a Roman town and temple, with the hot springs at its centre, then as a fashionable holiday site for the Victorians. We spent about 2 hours in there - I even drank some of the water, which supposedly has curative powers (I'm hoping my spots will clear up!). It was very hot and tasted like old dissolved aspirin from all the minerals. And the worst part was - the water gushes to the surface at a rate of 13 litres per SECOND, and they still made me pay 50p for a glass!
We also went into Bath Abbey, which has a nice plaque commemorating Captain Arthur Phillip, who died in the town after returning from his stint as first governor of Australia. We took in the town's lovely old Guild Hall, and had a look around the Assembly Rooms. For many people, Bath is Jane Austen, and she's hard to miss in the town. The assembly rooms are similar to what they would have been in her day. I didn't go into the Museum of Costume because it wasn't on our Heritage pass. So I bought the book instead!
We headed back to the car and started off for Wales. Cymru! It cost us almost 5 pounds to cross the Severn Bridge. That's about $12. Don't complain about the Gateway toll people! We headed north to see Tintern Abbey, the remains of a medieval Cistercian monastery. It was wonderful - so big! A dramatic site in a lovely valley. We wandered around pretending to be monks for a while, then drove back towards Chepstow, where we hoped we'd have enough time to see Chepstow Castle. Unfortunately they'd started locking up, so it was on to Cardiff for the night.
It was in Cardiff that we experienced the wondrous toilets of my last post. And that's all I'm going to write now because I'm stuffed, and we have to make arrangements for accommodation etc. We've been in Betws-y-coed now since Friday night, and it's during this time we've seen all the castles. So many castles! There's....wait for it.....SEVEN I have to describe to you. So I know you'll all be keen for my next post. Not. Actually, I'll be happy if people make it this far without falling asleep!
Love you all, Natalie