Today I took the first of two full-day tours of areas outside of London. The tour today was a tour of Windsor castle, the primary residence of the Queen; Stonehenge, the oldest relic in the U.K., and the city of Bath and the Roman baths therewithin. If this entry is less than coherent, keep in mind that it has been a long day and I am writing it while sitting in the hotel lounge, having already consumed a shot of Jose Cuervo Gold (no Patron, I’m afraid) and half a pint of Old Specked Hen.
And for some reason, I have a sneaking suspicion that the majority of the comments on this post, if any, will focus on my consumption of alcohol, and not the fascinating places I visited. But I could be wrong.
To be truthful, the best part of the tour was our tour guide, Stephen. Stephen can be described best as my image of P.G. Wodehouse’s “Jeeves”; or for those of you unfamiliar with Wodehouse, then he was Jonathan Quail Higgins incarnate, not in looks, but in accent, affectation, knowledge, and mannerisms. He is a linguist by training and spent several minutes regaling us with his distain for the demise of the English language. It was hilarious. He also gave us some insight into the circumlocutious naming convention for London roads. For instance, what we in the U.S. call a divided highway, Londoners call a “dual carriageway”. What we call the center divider, they calle the “central reservation”. What we call a beltway, they call the London Orbital Motorway. He also pointed out the demise of English grammar. He said he hated how London disc jockeys attempted to give their traffic reports in American accents, and especially how they constantly referred to “Delays due to an earlier accident.” As he pointed out, the adjective “earlier” is a comparative adjective, which can only mean that it is being compared to a current accident which is actually causing the delay. You get the idea.
Out first stop was Windsor Castle, which was about a 45-50 minute drive west of London. We went through some beautiful countryside. You could almost imagine the countryside being unchanged for thousands of years, were it not for the occasional interruption by power lines or cell towers. Windsor Castle itself is situated in an interesting location. It is on a bluff overlooking the surrounding lands (ideal for defensive positions back in the day). However, today it is surrounded by the town. What was once the moat is now an elegant garden. The flag flying over the castle tower was not the Union Jack but instead the flag that indicated that the Queen was actually staying in the castle this weekend. So I was in the the same building as Queen Elizabeth II at the same time she was there!
Up close, the castle was incredibly impressive. We had audio tour devices that described the various environs. Unfortunately, because we had a full day, we only had about an hour and a half at the castle and I spent most of my time visiting the public apartments. Don’t get my wrong, these were very impressive. But I wish I had more time. Among the highlights:
The Queen’s Guard Room was impressive because of the incredible display of weapons that filled the walls. In another room (I can’t recall the name) there was a wall full of all types of old guns and rifles and I think that my buddy Trevor (the other half of thepopeswife would have loved that room.
The art collection was equally impressive. However, for someone who had three years of art history in high school, my teachers would be supremely disappointed with me. I was only able to recognize one painting without assistance: Rembrandt’s A Man in a Turbin. I think it may have been the first time I have ever stood in front of a real Rembrandt, although I’m not certain of this.
My favorite room was the hall of knights. This was a narrow, but massively long room that had the seal of literally hundreds of knights all over the room. Walking through all of the room, looking at all of the seals, you could feel the centuries and centuries of English history surround you. In another room, nearly as impressive, were the marble busts of four of England’s biggest military heroes. Lord Nelson, of course, was the most prominent. However, there were also busts of Winston Churchill and one of Churchill’s forbearers.
This reminds me of yet another great Churchill story that I heard a few days ago. The first woman ever in Parliament (her name escapes me) was, I believe, originally American. She hated Churchill with a passion, and one day, she said to him, “Mr. Churchill, I loathe you. If I was your wife, I’d poison your tea.” To which Churchill calmly replied, without skipping a beat, “Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink the tea.”
We had to meet by the bus at about 11:20 AM and so I left the castle right as the guard was being changed. I was pretty hungry, not having eaten breakfast this morning. I noticed that, literally across the street from the castle, there was a McDonald’s so I dashed inside for a cheeseburger. This turned out to be a good move on my part for we didn’t end up having lunch until nearly 2:30 PM.
We next headed about 60 minutes southwest to Stonehenge, once again passing through some lively English countryside. I love the county lanes you see, as well as the rowhedges. You just don’t have that in the U.S. We were caught in some traffic on the way to Stonehenge, which incidentally, rests on a chalk plateau so that the grounds of the plateau are more nearly whitish than the surrounding grounds. We were a little rushed at Stonehenge, but it was still fairly impressive. There were crowds of people there, which took away from some of the effect, I think. On the other hand, we were surrounded by storm clouds which added to the mystery. Keep in mind, the oldest parts of Stonehenge are more than 5,000 years old. There are lots of theories about the purpose of Stonehenge and I don’t care to speculate on any of them, other than to say that there is no evidence that it was constructed by aliens and there is plenty of evidence that it was built by good old homo sapiens sapiens. I walked around the entire structure, taking photos, but I must say I was distracted by the crowds. I think I might have appreciated it more if there was no one else there.
After visiting Stonehenge, we headed for the Stonehenge Restaurant where we had our lunch. I sat with a very nice, older couple from Perth, Australia. I had chicken pie, a local speciality, with potatoes, carrots and peas. They were out of the local beer and the only other thing that they had on tap was Fosters, so I had a pint of that. I cleaned my plate, but I think it was because, cheeseburger not withstanding, I was pretty hungry.
It was raining pretty hard when we left the restaurant for the hour drive northwest toward Bath. Approaching Bath was very cool because it was down in a valley, split by a river and it looked like a medieval English town. In the center of the town was a massive church and next to the church were the Roman baths themselves. These baths, built by the Romans before 100 A.D. are based on natural springs, heated to about 46 degrees centigrade, or 116 Fahrenheit, the perfect temperature for bathing, apparently. The main bath was still filled with water and made to look like it looked two thousand years ago. But my favorite part were the excavated baths underneath the city streets, below the museum. I tried to take a lot of pictures of these, and I’ll get them posted soon. After visiting the baths, I stopped at a Ben & Jerry’s and for 3.50 pounds, got myself a milkshake, before getting back on the bus for the 2-1/2 hour drive back to London.
I got back to the hotel at about 8:30 PM, and headed directly for the lounge to write this up and get it posted for all of my Faithful Readers. And so here you have it.
Tomorrow, at 8:15 AM, I head for Stratford on Avon (Shakespeare’s birthplace–kruppenheimer will be jealous, Oxford, and some other place that I can’t remember at the moment. As soon as I finish this second pint of Old Specked Hen, I’m heading for my room and making use of the elegant bathtub to take a hot bath and relax. All of this talk of hot baths has gotten to me, and although I am not normally a bath person, I simply can’t pass up taking advantage of the great tub I have in my room. Maybe I’ll even read for a while in there….