It's been a while, but since arriving in the South, there's been a lot going on. I spent a terrific weekend with my old friend Geoff and his family. And on Wednesday, we took the short trip to Bath.
There you go, a week in a nutshell.
Seriously though, there are more than a few things to relate, so I’ll start with last Saturday when we took a trip to see some outstanding prehistoric monuments.
Avebury is one of the greatest neolithic sites in Europe. Built around 2500 BC, the stones themselves are smaller than those of Stonehenge (20 miles to the South), but the circle itself is much wider and more complex. The main circle, which was originally (allegedly) composed of 98 stones (some of them over 40 tonnes in weight!), is encompassed by a 20’ earthwork over a quarter of a mile across. There are four causeways over an inner ditch, two of which extend into wide avenues running over a mile from the site. The site is so big, in fact, that there is even a small village including a church, a pub and an Elizabethan manor house encroaching into the site. An old barn now houses the National Trust's only vegetarian restaurant, and very good it is too.
The village was busy – I guess that even a Saturday in early February is popular. The weather might have helped (oh no! he’s talking about the weather again!) I only mention it because it wasn’t raining. In fact, the sun came out and it actually felt like Spring might be around the corner. There was that expectant tang in the air and I saw my first snowdrops of the year. It was difficult to escape the crowds and absorb the atmosphere in peace, but it is still an awesome site.
A mile to the South is the subtly incredible Silbury Hill. It is right next to the A4 main road, but might be easy to miss if you aren't paying attention. The only thing that makes you look twice is its shape – a perfect cone with a flat top. It is only 130 feet high, but (and this is the staggering bit) it is completely man-made. In fact it is the largest prehistoric artificial mound in Europe. Composed of large blocks of chalk, infilled with chalk rubble, it was built around 2600 BC and is perfectly shaped. There have been many excavations over the centuries since, and the hill is now in danger of collapsing. English Heritage is in the process of looking through all the previous digs and back-filling and reinforcing all the holes. It means that while there will be no way to carry out more excavations, the hill will survive for a few hundred years more. The thing that interests me most though, is what sort of party it must have been for a bunch of people to decide that building a hill was a good idea?
A ten minute walk over the road from Silbury is the West Kennett Long Barrow. Dominating the horizon and running due East – West, it is over 300’ long and was built around 3250 BC. It was used as a collective burial place until the Beaker People closed it up around 2000 BC. There are a number of megalithic stones at the East end guarding an entrance to a short passageway which has five chambers opening off it. The side cells contained the remains of nearly 50 bodies, though the main chamber was plundered in the 17th century by a doctor from Marlborough who used the bones to make medicine. I wonder what that cured?
A cracking day out.
Sunday was, of course, geared towards the Superbowl. I don’t think I need to say much about that. Either you watched it (in which case there’s nothing I can tell you) or you didn’t (in which case you’re not interested so there’s nothing I can tell you).
We said farewell to Geoff and family on Monday evening. They are a terrific family and I don’t get to see nearly enough of them. I shall have to try harder this year. Tuesday turned into one of those write-off days (I think it rained) so we didn’t move until Wednesday when we took the hour-long trip to Bath. We’ve holed up in a smashing little CL just on the Western edge of the city. The down side is that it is carved into the side of a really steep hill. Maneuvering the outfit up a narrow lane and reversing into the pitch was a battle, but we managed. For some unfathomable reason, the waste point is at the top of the site, meaning that not only do you need crampons and an ice axe every time you want to empty the waste water, but a you are gasping for breath when emptying the toilet tank, and believe me, that’s the one time you really don’t want to have to take deep breaths…