With all the big hikes behind us, we now settled in to tour the Midlands. More sheep. We spent two nights at Woodhouse Park outside Bristol, then three nights at Youlbury Scout Camp outside Oxford. Both had good campgrounds and good showers. What more could one ask for?
From Woodhouse Park, we set out on a day of Arthurian questing, driving down to Glastonbury. We got there bright and early, and toured the ruined abbey. There was still a functioning chapel there, where we prayed, as well as the beautiful crypt chapel which could be used for groups as desired. The remains of the abbey were beautiful even in ruins. We paused at the gravesite of Arthur and Guinevere. We saw the Glastonbury Thorn.
Then we set out on foot for Glastonbury Tor. The hike up the Tor was delightful. Atop the Tor at St. Michael's tower, all the (comparatively) flat country round about opened up to us. One can see why the Tor has always been an important site.
From Glastonbury, we drove back to Bristol, stopping to get a street map in order to figure our way through the strange city. Sadly, we had no time to visit the world-famous Cheddar Gorge, nor the ought-to-be-world-famous Wookey Hole next door to it. (I am not making that name up.)
In the middle of Bristol stands the New Room, the church built by John and Charles Wesley and the center of their ministry in Bristol. It is crammed in, cheek-by-jowl, with shops in the market -- a quiet place of prayer and sanity with a touch of garden amidst the commerical madness. John Wesley had a lot to say about how much he appreciated the New Room. Standing in his pulpit, I could see why. It is one of the world's great preaching halls.
That evening, we played frisbee to the point of exhaustion and exhilaration. Things were going well. The next morning, we packed up and continued on into the Midlands, stopping first at Bath. We were worried about money, so we took a pass on the Roman ruins, but we wandered through Bath Abbey, to our delight. And in a confectioner's shop window, right next to a full-sized chocolate violin, were two, uh, full-sized chocolate -- ahem -- boobs.
We continued on our way out of town, arriving at Stonehenge at mid-morning. The place was busy, and we were prevented by fences from wandering out over the actual ruins. The Venturers felt a bit let down, actually. But still, even at arm's length, Stonehenge is impressive. We walked over to some barrows nearby after lunch, but the path through them was closed.
So we drove on to Avebury, where a whole village is nestled within the remains of a stone circle larger than Stonehenge. We shopped a bit in the local antiques shop, right across from a pub called The Red Lion (reputed to be the most haunted pub in England). We also visited Silbury Hill, a prehistoric mound, and the West Kennett Long Barrow. One could actually enter the Long Barrow, which is an ancient passage grave. This satisfied one of my life-long ambitions.
Then it was on to Oxford the back way through Wantage (where Alfred the Great was born), just next to White Horse Hill, home to the Uffington White Horse, a prehistoric chalk-figure cut in the hillside. The Uffington White Horse is also the model, according to Prof. Tom Shippey, for the banner of the Eorlingas in The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien modeled the land of Rohan off the ancient lands of Mercia, and the banner of the Riddermark was a white horse prancing on a field of green.
In Oxford the next day, we just drove in blindly until we stumbled across the University, whereupon we found a car park and started exploring. We went down St. Giles Street and found The Eagle and Child (C.S. Lewis's favorite pub), and finally the closed market, where we located a tea shop that served cornish pasties and cream teas. We checked it out and planned to return for lunch. We did a fair amount of shopping about Oxford. Visited the Pitt-Rivers collection and the museum of natural history in the science area of the U. Had our tea (I had the chicken, potato, & leek pasty -- wonderful). Learned about clotted cream slathered on scones. Yum. That evening in camp, we built a real campfire (our first on this trip). It was wonderful.
The next day, we returned to Oxford to go punting on the Cherwell. We picknicked on the lawn of the University parks. We went to Blackwells the bookshop and a couple of other books-and-art shops and indulged ourselves in our favorite intellectual pursuits: shopping for books. Then home again to Youlbury and another campfire.
I had wanted to go to early mass at St. Giles in Oxford, but everybody else wanted to get on the road the next day (Sunday), so we left Youlbury early for Windsor, where we tromped around the castle a bit. Then it was off to Heathrow to hand in our rental cars.
Next: "When one is tired of London, one is tired of life."