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Oxon-Hants-Wilts: Homeward Bound.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: Homeward Bound.

Day 4 – Wednesday 19th August 2009

Having stayed in Andover for three nights we thought that we should at least have a look round before we left. It’s not a place that would interest the average tourist but it does have some attractive corners and old buildings.

There is the Town Mills pub, for example, which used to be a mill and has the River Anton flowing underneath it.

You could be forgiven if you thought that the Angel Inn was Victorian but it is, in fact, the oldest inn in Andover dating from the 12th Century. In 1435 virtually the whole of Andover was destroyed by fire except for the church and priory which were both built from stone. The Angel Inn was damaged, although not destroyed, and was rebuilt in 1445. It does look, however, that the facade was rebuilt in Victorian times masking its origins.

This timber-framed house near the church looks old and is old.

Having had a quick look around the town we left. We didn’t intend going straight home and headed for one of the local villages – Upper Clatford. The river running past the village is the River Anton – the same one that runs through Andover.

This is a pretty little village with many thatched buildings including the local pub, The Crook and Shears, shown here.

We moved on to Stonehenge for our second visit in two years (we also went last year). Why another visit so soon? Well it was nearby and we get free parking and free entry so we might as well make the most of it.

It was very busy, of course, being August but we were here earlier in the day compared with last year and the car park wasn’t quite so full although there didn’t seem to be fewer people.

This was our last port of call on this trip so We’ll leave you with the few obligatory photographs of Stonehenge in dramatic lighting.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: Two rings and a spire.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: Two rings and a spire.

Day 3 – Tuesday 18th August 2009

Today is Salisbury day. We head off to the Park & Ride Car Park on the outskirts of Salisbury but just before we get there we find ourselves at a junction with the entrance to the Old Sarum site opposite so we elect to go in This is our first ring.

Car parking turns out to be free but entrance to the central part of the ring is chargeable so as it is now cloudy overall we decide not to go into the central area. There is a good view from where we are, allowing for the cloudy conditions, and we can see Salisbury Cathedral with its very prominent spire.

This is the central, raised, area which we didn't visit on this occasion which was the original site of the City of Salisbury including a castle, palace and cathedral. I gather that there are some remains of the old Normal Castle but nothing particularly spectacular and I believe that the original cathedral was completely demolished leaving just the foundations laid out like a floor plan.

The mounds and ditch were built during the iron age then adopted by the Romans and subsequently taken over by the Normans. The defensive ditch around the central area of Old Sarum is pretty deep and steep.

On to the Salisbury Park & Ride then a short bus ride into the city. As it was a cloudy day we went straight into the cathedral which we found, on first glance, a little disappointing. It didn't generate the same levels of interest that we found in, for example, Winchester, Wells and Norwich. The nave looked rather empty with little in the way of stained glass in the windows.

They did, however, have the oldest (Medieval – 1386) working clock in the world which has no face and only strikes the hours.

This view shows one of the arches around the crossing under the tower looking through into the Quire which had some remarkable medieval wood carving on the stalls which date from 1236 – the oldest complete set in England.

Looking from the Quire, past the Audley Chapel, towards the East Window which was designed in 1980.

We rather liked this next view around the tower crossing. It reminded us a little of the Scissor arches in Wells Cathedral.

The Cloisters are rather nice and are, in fact, the largest of any British cathedral. They are also unusual in that they have never been part of a monastic foundation which is normally the case.

From the Cloisters one gains entry to the Chapter House which holds one of the four surviving original Magna Carta, written on vellum in abbreviated medieval latin, sealed in 1215 by King John. Photography is not permitted in the Chapter House.

We finally ventured outside and managed to capture a five second spell of sunshine lighting up the West Front of the cathedral. The sky gives a good idea of what it was like generally throughout the day.

We left the cathedral precincts by this gate and were back in the surrounding city. As it was around lunch time we started to look for somewhere that would provide a substantial lunch to substitute for the meal we weren't going to have back at the Danebury Hotel in Andover.

Wandering around we stumbled across 'The Polly Tea Rooms' and liked the look of the menu. We were both glad that we chose to go in because the prices were reasonable and the food and service was excellent. Recommended! It's near Bridge Street not far from here.

We didn't really have as much time here to explore as we would have liked. This was one of the streets we wandered through where we noticed this old timber-framed building.

And we eventually found the old market cross complete with a little market.

It was getting late in the afternoon now, 5:30 PM, so we decided to call it a day and headed back to Andover. However on the way back we noticed that we would be going past Figsbury Ring, our second ring of the day, and as the weather was now taking a turn for the better, we thought we'd pay it a visit.

Figsbury Ring, like Old Sarum, is a prehistoric Hill Fort and the evening light up here was absolutely wonderful. Here is Amanda standing on the outer bank looking back towards Salisbury and we could see the spire of Salisbury Cathedral in the far distance.


On our way around the ring we spotted an Adonis Blue butterfly. Not a common sight although there is a colony known to exist here. Very pretty.

So back to our palatial lodgings and tomorrow we leave for home.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: A holy house and a giant stairway.

Oxon-Hants-Wilts: A holy house and a giant stairway.

Day 2 – Monday 17th August 2009

The hotel didn’t serve meals in the evening on a Sunday (yesterday) so we bought a Chinese Take Away and ate it in our room.

We spent a good night in a very comfortable bed. There was no apparent noise except when the traffic started to move in the early morning and that was only an occasional vehicle.

Breakfast was available in a room opposite the bar which had been, at one time, a Pizza Bar and was apparently now used only for breakfast. It was a pleasant enough room with most food laid out buffet style except for the cooked part which was cooked to order. The cooked breakfast was actually very good with a wide choice of items. The buffet was also very good and included fruit juices, cereals, fruit and pastries.

It was becoming obvious by now that, generally, there was only one person on duty at a time and they were expected to serve breakfast and look after reception. However the staff were unfailingly pleasant and well trained.

We left the hotel after breakfast bound for Lacock in Wiltshire. The journey took about an hour and just before we reached Lacock we drove round a bend onto the edge of the high ground we’d been on and there was Lacock in the valley below. Luckily there was an empty layby which enabled us to stop to take this picture. Lacock village and abbey are immediately above the red brick house in the foreground.

We drove on to Lacock, parked in the National Trust car park (free to members) and walked into the village. The National Trust own both the village and the abbey.

When we started out from Andover the sky was covered in thin cloud with an occasional blue patch showing but now the cloud had thickened with no blue sky at all. That makes photographs look very gloomy as you can see from one of the first photographs I took in the village from the churchyard.

Whilst we were having lunch the cloud became much more broken and after lunch I took the same photograph again.

Doesn’t that look much nicer than the first?

For the time being we’ll go back to our cloudy morning. As well as looking round the village we wanted to see Laycock Abbey (National Trust). Photographs in the house are generally not permitted but in parts of the original abbey, such as the cloisters, photographs are permitted and it wouldn’t matter what the weather was like outside.

On the way to the abbey we went in to this 15th Century Tithe Barn in the village. Quite an impressive structure.

Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 as a nunnery but was, of course, dissolved by Henry VIII and in 1539 it was sold and converted into a private home. The medieval cloisters were retained and, apparently, have been used in the Harry Potter films.

One of the most famous inhabitants of the abbey was William Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) inventor of the negative/positive photographic process. In 1835 he created the first known example of a photographic negative taken of an oriel window in the abbey. I wonder what he would have though of my digital single lens reflex?

This shows part of the south side of the abbey with the main entrance.

After looking around the abbey we went back to the village, now that the sun was out, where I was able to take some better photographs. If only all the streets were this clear of parked vehicles. Even this street was clogged with parked vehicles earlier in the day and just chanced to be clear on this occasion.

Most of the streets seem to be clogged with parked cars and vans most of the time. The village has been used many times in ‘period’ films at which time, so I understand, all the vehicles are cleared away. I wasn’t so lucky.

There are some nice old buildings here including this one behind the church which is now a pottery although I don’t know what it might have been earlier. This area is called the Tanyard which may give a clue as to its original use.

Having seen all that we thought we could see we started back for Andover but we intended to stop off just this side of Devizes to see something unusual.

This is part of the Kennet and Avon Canal and each of those little white footbridges delineates a lock – 16 in all in this giant stairway. On this stretch of the canal there are 29 locks in the space of two miles of which this section is the most impressive.

There is a car park at the top which is where we parked and I walked all the way down for this photograph and now I’m going to have to walk all the way back up. Part the way up I met some narrowboats coming down. This one is waiting for the water level to drop so that they can then move into the next lock down.

This narrowboat is moving out of one lock into the next. The process of negotiating all 16 locks in the stairway takes, I believe, two to three hours.

I rendered some slight assistance at one lock by opening one of the two gates. This is done by leaning back against the arm and pushing with one’s feet. The little radiused brick path has raised sections so that it’s possible to get a good grip with one’s feet. Having done my good deed for the day we continued onward and upward.

Just before we reached the top I spotted this heron perched on an inflatable barrier on one of the large side ponds. A very handy fishing platform.

From here we return to the Danebury Hotel in Andover where we are prepared to try one of their evening meals. I suppose it’s only an evening meal from our point of view as they appear to serve cooked food all day.

On our return we discovered that the only place we can eat is the Public Bar which we share with three coin-in-the-slot gaming machines covered in flashing lights, a giant television, a pool table, loudish ‘background’ music and numerous gentlemen with heavily tatooed bare arms.

Ah well it’s worth a try.  The food turned out to be pretty average and not as good as one might expect in many pubs these days. One of the men in the bar apologised for another’s bad language which neither of us actually noticed but thought it was a nice gesture.

Looking around at the various signs in the bar area it appears that they are catering specifically for the heavy drinking fraternity with such as ‘Buy two glasses of wine and get the whole bottle’ sort of thing. Their main trade is apparently on Friday and Saturday nights when, thankfully, we shall be long gone.

The meal passed uneventfully but we decided not to eat there on our third night.

Tomorrow we hope will be in-spiring.

Wells – Days 5 & 6 (Thursday & Friday)

Wells – Days 5 & 6 (Thursday & Friday)

The weather on Thursday was supposed to include some sunny intervals and when we awoke it was to blue sky and sun. After breakfast we went for a short walk around the city but within an hour the cloud cover had increased to the point that sunshine was in short supply again.

We then elected to go to Cheddar Gorge. We didn't intend to just drive through the Gorge but to find somewhere to park near the top end of the gorge and walk along the top.

Once we knew that we had started down the gorge, it was just a V-shaped valley at that stage, we looked out for a place to stop and spotted a place where there was a layby on each side of the road so we pulled in to the one on our side. We were looking for a footpath that started near a place called Black Rock and after stopping I looked across the road at the other layby and there on a gate was a notice saying 'Black Rock Nature Reserve' – how's that for luck?

Not only that but the footpath that we were looking for started just a few yards along from where we had stopped and that's where our luck stopped. The footpath, in woodland, turned out to be very rough and rocky and really quite steep. Oh well you can't win them all and it should make the walk more interesting. smilies

The steep rocky bit didn't go on for ever, it just seemed that way, and we emerged onto undulating grassland with the wood continuing on our right.

We saw lots of Devil's Bit Scabious, a pretty blue wild flower, along the way which is an uncommon plant as it is very limited in its distribution.

Cheddar

By this time, as you can see in the above picture, we were beginning to see outcrops of the local Carboniferous limestone through which the gorge is cut.

A little further on and the woodland disappeared and the views opened up. It was still rather cloudy at this point but in the distance, from our high viewpoint, we could see the landscape bathed in sunlight. Careful study of the slow moving cloud shadow and we realised that the sunlight was moving our way. We sat on a rock and waited and the sun eventually reached us and this is the view that we had been watching.

Cheddar

The road through the gorge is quite a long way down at this point.

Cheddar

We could now see some pretty grim looking weather headed our way so we started off for the car. Just before we reached the woodland it started to rain, and they were fairly big drops, then we reached the woodland and decided to shelter until the weather had passed. Just as well because a short while later it absolutely fell down. Then the thunder and lightning started. Water started to trickle down path we were on so we moved off to the side a little then the water turned into a small stream.

The storm did eventually pass and we set off again downhill. We decided to drive through the gorge and head for Burrington Combe which we had visited the day before when it would not stop raining.

Cheddar

We arrived in Burrington Combe with the sun shining again. This is where I started caving as a youngster and I was interested in looking at the entrances to some of the caves I had been down then. What surprised me was that cave entrances that I remember being in the open were now in woodland and there was a new cave that had not been discovered when I was caving there.

Burrington Combe is less impressive than Cheddar Gorge inasmuch as it doesn't have the vertical cliffs but is still worth exploring.

Burrington Combe

Whilst there we spotted some wild goats.

Burrington Combe

That was our last visit of the day – tomorrow we go home.

Friday was predicted to be a better day and it certainly was when we went for breakfast. After breakfast we quickly packed, paid our bill, and set off for home.

The surprise is that, because the weather was quite good, we decided to visit Stourhead Gardens on the way and it wouldn't mean going out of our way at all.

We spent about two and a half hours there and all we did was walk round the lake – but what a lake!

Stourhead Gardens

There are 'follies' built around the lake in various places of which 'The Pantheon' is but one.

Stourhead Gardens

The range of trees and shrubs here is astounding and as one walks around the lake many different vistas appear and disappear.

We finally reached our original starting point and continued on our way home but it just happened that our route took us within sight of Stonehenge and our National Trust membership gets us in free. So in spite of it being a sunny day in August and half the world being there we went in.

Stonehenge

Although visitors are confined to a circular path it does pass quite near the stones at one point.

Stonehenge

It is spoiled by the numbers of visitors (it is August after all), the constant traffic noise from the two nearby roads, the fence which goes all the way around and the fact that one cannot get near or in among the stones. From the photographic point of view the later disadvantage becomes an advantage otherwise the views of the stones would be spoiled by the crowds of people that would certainly be milling among the stones.

We didn't leave Stonehenge until about 3:00 PM and what should have been a final two and a half hour drive home turned into 4 hours because of the rush hour traffic on the M25 and the Dartford Crossing where the motorway crosses the Thames and passes through toll booths. We were caught in an 11 mile queue for one and a half hours of stop/start driving when we considered ourselves lucky to reach 20 MPH.

Oh the joys of travel.

Thus endeth the latest trip.

Back again

Back again

We returned yesterday from our latest trip having been to Brecon and the Brecon Beacons, Carreg Cennen Castle, the City of St. David's, the Pembrokshire coast and finally Marlborough in Wiltshire which included the Avebury Stone Circle. I took about 400 photographs in all but not all of these will appear on the site.

Here are some sample pictures:

Brecon

One of the views from our hotel bedroom window showing Brecon with the Brecon Beacons (the hills) in the background.

Carreg Cennen Castle

Carreg Cennan Castle perched on it's rocky crag.

Solva Harbour on the Pembrokeshire coast

Solva Harbour on the Pembrokeshire coast.

Avebury Stone Circle

Avebury Stone Circle. Unlike Stonehenge you can walk around where you like and touch the stones. It's older than Stonehenge as well.