In January 2007 I visited Salisbury for a few days, and fell in love with the Cathedral. So I made my way back here on Friday, travelling down from Berwick-upon-Tweed via London, and staying again at Sarum College, in the cathedral Close, right on the doorstep of the Cathedral. Thomas Hardy's biographer wrote that Salisbury was "a place in which he was never tired of sojourning, partly from personal associations, and partly because its graceful cathedral pile was the most marked instance in England of architectural intention carried out to the full ... 'the Close of Salisbury under the full summer moon on a windless night is as beautiful a scene as I know in England, or, for the matter of that, elsewhere'."
Yesterday (Saturday) I set off in my rental car to find Avebury - similar to Stonehenge, but many more stones spread over a much wider area - and Bathford, near Bath, where a member of the family tree (Highams) had lived and worked in the toll house back in the 1870s. After solving the problem of the SatNav wanting to take me back to where I'd started, I was off. Maybe it was those ancient stones causing psychic connections, but the whole day was a series of coincidences involving New Zealand.
I stopped on my way to Avebury to check out a small church, following a signpost saying "Saxon Church." The Saxon part turned out to be fairly tenuous, but outside I met two boys on their bikes, and had a chat. "Are you from New Zealand?" one of them asked. "Yes! How did you know that?" "Because I can understand your language." "But how did you know I was from New Zealand?" "Because Daniel told me." I wondered who this mysterious Daniel with apparently psychic powers was, and how he knew about me! I pointed out that they could understand me because I spoke English, and so did they, because they came from England. The boys had discussion about this, and one pointed out to the other that in fact he came from Swindon. Anyway, I surmised in the end that Daniel worked on their farm, and that he was from NZ, and so the boy had recognised the accent.
Further on I spotted the first set of big stones, and pulled over to have a look, and to call Sarah (still in New Zealand). She had bought some Manuka honey to bring over for her brother, but I was doubtful that she would be allowed to take it through customs. I then drove on to Avebury village, which is built in the midst of the stone circles, and on my way out of the car park caught a snatch of conversation from a passer-by: “… yes, they are lovely, but I prefer New Zealand trees …”. After a very interesting hour or two getting acquainted with many very large, very old (4,500 years) standing stones, I walked back to the car park, and at the same spot looked up to see a chap playing cricket in a T-shirt with a map of New Zealand on it.
I drove on to Bathford, found the remnants of the ancestor’s toll house, talked to the present owner, and headed back to Salisbury to drop off the rental car. The young guy on the desk asked me what my accent was. “Where do you think?” I asked. “Don’t be offended,” he said, “but I think … New Zealand?” He then asked where I lived, and when I said Auckland, he asked if Karekare beach was near there. He knew of it because Neil Finn has a studio there, and he was a big fan of the Finns, including Liam Finn. I casually mentioned that I had a son and a daughter who knew Liam Finn quite well. He was impressed, of course!
After dinner in a local pub I walked past the health shop, and noticed a big stand with Manuka Honey, from New Zealand. Before heading back to my room I had a stroll in the Cathedral grounds, appreciating the late summer evening sun on the creamy stone of the Cathedral. Two girls sitting nearby were comparing notes on their travels. One of them had been to Ireland, and told the other she would love it there, because it would remind her of where they both came from … New Zealand.
Strange? Or maybe just reminding me where I belong.
Today, after attending the Sunday morning service in the Cathedral, I've moved on to the Isle of Wight, to spend a few days in a Benedictine Abbey here, called Quarr Abbey. It's a beautiful spot, and very traditionally Benedictine with its seven chapel times per day, mostly in Latin, Gregorian chanting of the Psalms, etc. The Isle of Wight music festival has been on this weekend, and as I type I can hear Paul McCartney singing live (currently it's "Long and Winding Road").
This is the last stage of the solo journey before returning to London and welcoming Sarah on Saturday at Heathrow, with or without her Manuka honey! I probably won't blog again until after that.