Wednesday, May 26:  Stones of Southern England

A car trip day. First stop: Stonehenge. Underwhelming. Smaller in real life than the impression given by photos. No aging hippies in VW micro-buses or druids sacrificing farm animals. Just large tour buses full of German youths and Japanese senior citizens. (Photo 159)

From here, we drove to Avebury, site of another large ring of large stones. However, here its a bit hard to discern the extent of the circle, given its large radius, so long ago a small town sprung up within one quadrant. On the walk in, we stopped at the National Trust Land Rover just beyond the car park and debated the wisdom of joining. Stonehenge had been a National Heritage sight, but with free admission for National Trust members. Anyway, to make a long story short, we joined the United States branch that is set up as a charitable organization, so we can take the contribution on our taxes as a deduction.

Once into the small village, we opted for lunch at the Red Lion Pub, rather than the vegetarian option run by the National Trust. We then walked the circumference of the circle of stones, walking the crest of a deep ditch, at times 30 feet deep, built just around the circle of stones itself. As brand-new members, we were warmly welcomed at the museum and gallery nearby.

Our next stop was Laycock, another small village run by the National Trust (NT from now on). There had been an abbey here, but the power of the abbots nationwide had been curtailed by a British King (Henry VIII) in the early 1500’s and this one had been given to an individual, and had remained in family hands every since. In 1945 it had been donated to the NT, making it one of the more typical NT properties. The house was interesting and the room steward at the entrance took a special interest in David and Robert. I noted the family name of Leighton as one of the early female owners, who married into the family. For over 600 years, this house had contained one of three known copies of the third and final revision of the Magna Carta. It too was donated in 1945, to the British Museum. The other copy is at Salisbury Cathedral (it has a big ink spill) and another was just recently found among “the Queen’s papers.” A photographic copy of the original was on display.

Exiting the house proper, the room steward gave us a personal tour of the cloisters below. They were a remnant of the abbey, and the current manor house was built atop them. Their ornate arches and detail were part of the reason that some of the filming for the first two Harry Potter movies was done here. We walked back to the car park through a bit of a rain shower -- the first serious rain we’ve seen since Sarlat.

Dinner was to be at the local pub, Hop Pole, on recommendation of our hosts at the B&B. The sign out front said they welcomed “well-behaved children,” which gave me pause. But once we saw the menu, we knew it wasn’t the place for us. So we marched all the way across town to the Podium Shopping Center, where we eventually settled on the Italian joint. Everybody enjoyed their meal, except for me. Mediocre pasta and a beer selection that had only Budweiser on tap was too much of a letdown.