Waking up in the Stourhead National Trust carpark was great. After breakfast we made use of their cafe, and after a coffee and walk around the gift shop we hit the road. HOW OLD ARE WE?!
Our destination was Old Wardour Castle – it looked cool in the book, largely intact and with interesting history. Kate punched the postcode in to the satnav and we were off. Unfortunately our route turned in to a satnav special as we steered Dotty along the thinnest lanes to date. She’s a bitch to reverse, and currently the reversing camera is broken so it’s even worse – it was a real roll of the dice; I was in hell!
Luck was with us and we made it without incident. Old Wardour Castle is worth a visit – a 6-sided affair, mostly all there. It was a Royalist Castle during the Civil War – it surrendered to the Parliamentarians after a siege. The Parliamentarians moved in and shortly after it was under seige again – this time from the Royalists. The method of the times was to place mines under the battlements, which typically forced a surrender. In this case, the mines accidentally exploded and one section of the castle was destroyed – but much of the rest is there to explore.
After wandering around exploring the nooks and crannies of the castle I ate an ice cream – Kate took photos of said ice cream in my beard. “That’s mean” said a passing woman. I agreed. Then we headed out on the less-tiny laned path to Salisbury to visit Kate’s uncle and aunt.
Arriving at our destination, the streets were characteristically narrow and had cars parked on both sides too. Manoeuvring Dotty in to a regular car park was going to be no easy feat – I had all but decided against it, but Kate’s uncle did the waving and after much backward and forward we got her in the park off the road. They threw a delicious lunch together for us (look for reproduced similar salads on Two Hobs and a Grill) and then we went on a wee walking tour of the town. Salisbury is adorable.
Not quite so adorable is Salisbury Cathedral. A behemoth in the gothic style, it was built as a vanity project – to be the biggest cathedral in the world. And it is pretty big! We saw it from many angles as we wandered the city.
We had a pint next to a junction of streams (five meet in Salisbury), and in the evening we went to a play in the cathedral. This wasn’t just any play – it was a play on the Magna Carta, performed in part by school kids. A school play, performed in Salisbury Cathedral. A bit of an upgrade from the hall up the road from my primary school!
It was pretty silly with lots of word play, but I actually learnt a lot about the Magna Carta!
After a nice sleep in the driveway we had a delicious breakfast of croissants. Kate wrote her food blog on the laptop. I got in a huff about not being able to use the laptop, and wandered about the town. Upon returning, our generous hosts had sourced a wee netbook for Kate to take so we can now compute at the same time! So kind, and makes us twice as efficient – on paper anyway.
We wandered in to town to see an exhibition at the Cathedral. It was £14 for both of us – we decided not to. We tried to visit Mompesson House, an NT property over the square. It was closed. We went to ‘foodie friday’ – it was five stalls selling kebabs. So not that successful a morning, but it was nice wandering the streets – Salisbury really is lovely!
Fond farewells said and it was bush bashing time for Dotty leaving the driveway, five minutes north to Old Sarum. This old mound and site has had people occupying it for thousands of years – a lot of history in the place. Eventually everyone moved to Salisbury three miles down the road and Old Sarum was left empty – yet it still had political representation for many many years – the most notorious of the UK’s rotten boroughs. Outside the central castle area is the outline of the previous cathedral. It was not grand enough I guess!
Next up we took Dotty to visit some things even older than her – the neolithic monuments around Avebury. These are the largest stone circles in Europe. Three concentric rings, with a great ditch and embankment around them. As we approached Avebury, we pulled over next to Kennet Avenue. Right beside the A road, two lines of standing stones stand in a field. It’s beside the road because the modern road cuts right through the row – a great example of historic conservation!
We found a quiet wild-camp spot next to a farm (it’s always next to a farm) and had a good evening and nice, rapeless sleep.
In the morning we headed back in to Avebury, and as the venues opened we wandered among the stones. It’s eerie to be looking and touching objects which were significant to people 5000 years ago – a real connection with history, makes you feel small but connected and all that. Neat moments. Kate’s uncle had suggested we spot shapes and animals in the rocks. We could, and did.
The National Trust have done a nice job at Avebury and there’s a good museum of the history of the stones and the locals 5000 years ago, and then there’s Avebury house. This house is another unique one. Empty of contents, NT teamed up with the BBC and decorated each room in a period fashion – building everything from scratch. Everything is a replica across 500 years of style, using all the craftspeople the BBC have access to. There’s a show – The Manor Reborn. Since everything is a replica, they let you go mental too – you can touch everything. Kate did.
After a quick bite it was north, always north! To Lacock Abbey. We wanted to go here because of the whole ‘cock’ thing, and the place didn’t disappoint for the more normal reasons too. A nunnery, the place was later converted in to a manor house. As we progressed through, it went from austere below to ostentatious above. (Austerentacious?)
We found the most interest in the photography. The chap who lived there, William Henry Fox Talbot, was one of the pioneers of photography. There is a great wee museum gallery of this, and some excellent photography exhibitions. In an outdoor courtyard of the house, a travel photography competition was on display. The images were great and inspiring!
For the evening we popped in to Cirencester, my gypsy home for a month on the previous trip. We stopped at a pub I stayed at a few times, the Highwayman Inn, who were happily still in business and doing even better food than before. Not content with typical pub fare, they had Frogs Legs starters and a Kangaroo steak on offer. Kate had both – she had a spring in her step in the morning! We enjoyed great real ales then retired to the van for scrabble and some sneaky supermarket beers.
We’ve had a constant push north, and our last push has got us up by Birmingham now. Enroute to this campsite we passed many neat historic buildings – we could only pick one, so we picked Stokesay Castle. It looked cool, medieval manor house and such – but the execution was not to our taste unfortunately. A free audio tour was available, but it laid it on so thick – and so heavily – that we didn’t want to partake. As we left the ticket office, 8 people stood around listening to handsets. Then, almost as one, they’d press ‘2’, walk 2 metres, and listen to the next bit. And so on. It was awful, like waking zombies – we decided to wing it. But unfortunately they don’t cater to the deaf; there were no information boards anywhere. So we wandered around, impressed but uninspired – English Heritage properties are so unpredictable.
Now we’ve spent a day at a campsite, doing computing and stuff. I played StarCraft II, because why not! We were having a day off. The plastic in the sink drain broke, so I super glued that back together. There’s a nice peacock here, and we saw a wounded frog – but for £53 for two nights mid-week, you’d better get a bloody peacock!
The future plans – yesterday we checked the price of tickets to ship the van to Ireland and back. £430 at reasonable hours, £380 if we want to go at 2am. It’s quite a sum – 1.5 weeks’ touring if we work off our previous budget! So we’ve decided to stay on the mainland and enjoy spending that £380 on whiskey and pubs in Scotland instead.