Gail & Morgan in the Isles travel blog

a White Horse

The Avebury Avenue

Avenue Circle w/Pub

Glastonbury Tor

Glastonbury Abbey

Glastonbury Ruins

Maiden Castle Ringfort

Kennett Barrow

Stonehenge

Chalice Well

Abbotsbury Lunch

Pilgrims Church


The next day, Wednesday, 21 April, we went in search of more ancient history and headed to the Uffington White Horse. It’s a stylized image of a horse, very beautiful, cut into the chalk hillside about 3000 years ago and measures 162’ high x 376’ long. It was difficult to see while standing next to it and is thought to have been created to please the gods—it can best be seen from the air (we didn’t). We had been trying to track down this horse and got quite confused by our atlas which had “White Horse” listed in seven different locations. It was only later that we learned that the other White Horses had been created in the 1800s for various commemorations including one for Queen Victoria. The terrain truly is of chalk, hard and crumbly and when the topsoil is scoured off the image lasts for hundreds/thousands of years.

I went on a hike along the Ridgeway (thought to have been established by Neolithic traders and used by the Romans) in search of Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic tomb; I passed a woman, perhaps in her 70s, with a walking stick and plastic pouch containing a hiking map. I asked for directions and she said it was five minutes down the Ridgway. Fifteen minutes later I gave up and turned around. I may have been close but, realizing I had to walk all the way back, although disappointed, I let it go.

As we drove toward our campsite near Salisbury we rounded a corner and came upon the Avebury stones—quite a thrilling sight. The largest stone circle in the world at 1,150’ in diameter was built from 2500-2200 BC. The next day we returned and spent the day hiking first to the West Kennett Long Barrow, then up The Avenue, a processional area flanked by more massive stones, and back to the stone circle before having lunch at the Red Lion pub—in the MIDDLE of the Circle!—and then headed to Stonehenge. Avebury felt quite powerful and intimate but Stonehenge, surrounded by fencing and tourists and motorways, seemed remote and far removed from the crowd of tourists, as if it had drawn into itself.

On Friday, my 66th birthday, we explored Salisbury—wandering the grounds of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the Deanery and The Close—and shopped for my birthday dinner party. We had Diana and Mike, our first WWOOFing hosts, over to VanGo and entertained them with our adventures as well as our slide show from Africa. At one point while Gail was preparing paninis Diana remarked that it felt like she was on a boat: the rocking and closeness. The next day Gail treated me to a decadent French toast breakfast made with Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut sauce) before we explored Glastonbury Abbey; it was “dissolved” by Henry VIII who declared himself the head of the new Church of England and took the Catholic monasteries and abbeys to finance his war ventures. Glastonbury is a ‘kick,’ a throw-back to Berkeley of the 70’s with tie-dyed clothes, Mists of Avalon bookstores, crystal shops, and guitar-playing hippies.

On Sunday Diana and Mike took us to Maiden Castle hillfort comprising 120 acres. This Neolithic causewayed enclosure and bank barrow had evidence of clusters of roundhouses and a road network suggesting it was densely populated at one time. During attacks the cattle were herded into this safe space and the winding entrance was built to confuse the enemy. It developed into an Iron Age hillfort, the largest hillfort in Britain. We had lunch at Abbotsbury where the monks had a swannery to provide their dinners before the abbey was also “dissolved,” and then we hiked up to St. Catherine’s Church built by pilgrims after arriving at the abbey.

The following day we climbed Glastonbury Tor, the mythic Isle of Avalon which was also the site of the medieval church of St. Michael. Then I went to the Chalice Well & Gardens which was a beautiful, peaceful place. The well is the place where Morgaine supposedly hid the Grail and the Sword; the water is reddish with iron and is reputed to have healing qualities—I drank a glass, of course. Every day at noon and 3 pm a bell rings for a minute of silence, a carryover from WWII when the BBC broadcast a signal at 9 pm each evening for a minute’s silence. We enjoyed wandering through the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey lead by a guide dressed as a monk. This abbey was quite extensive with fish and duck ponds, monk’s and abbot’s kitchens, the site of the graves of King Arthur and Guinevere, and the Holy Thorn tree reputed to have been brought by Joseph of Arimathea. Immediately in front of the altar was the grave of a woman saint (whose Gaelic name escapes me)—the most prominent place— although women were not allowed in the sanctuary.

We then dashed over to Street (the town) which boomed when the Quaker Clark utilized the tanning centre to create the Clark shoe factory. The huge shopping mall there with many Clark shoe outlets, reminded me of the Vacaville Shopping Outlets!



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