Friday, November 27, 2015

A pre-cruise special - Avebury, Bath & Canals

It does not cease to amaze me that time goes so quickly as we get older. Things we should have done ages ago are still in the 'to do' basket. One of those is to update this blog and talk about our travels of last year. All the more urgent because we hope to travel again in the new year.

Last year we travelled the UK and France. Both great countries to visit repeatedly, especially by ship. For us in Australia, the worst part now is to travel that long distance between Hobart and Europe. Much as I love flying, I am 'over' those 24-35 hours journeys!

To prepare us for our cruising, we chose to spend a few relaxing (!) days in England. The city of Bath was our choice. It is a wonderful place to visit with interesting history and great scenic drives close by. This blog chapter therefore, covers Bath and surroundings.

I first visited Bath in 1981. At that time it was a relaxing and easy place to spend time. We even parked our car outside the Roman Baths! Try doing that today and you will find yourself wondering whether you are in the same city. Jeanette especially wanted to see Bath and I was more than happy to be her companion.

Bath is indeed, a good place from which to visit other towns and nearby sites. While there, I particularly wanted to spend time travelling along the Avon & Kennet canal and river system, as well of course, enjoy Bath itself. But first, on our way from Heathrow airport, we stopped at the village of Avebury, a place I wanted Jeanette to see and experience for its amazing neolithic henge monument. Its history goes back a long time and deserves a lot more study and comment than this blog chapter will allow. With the help of Wikipedia, just a few interesting facts by way of introducing you to Avebury.
  • Constructed during the Neolithic, period, Avebury is one of the best known prehistoric sites in Britain, it contains a henge with a large outer stone circle and two separate smaller stone circles situated inside the centre of the monument. Its original purpose is unknown, although archaeologists believe that it was most likely used for some form of ritual or ceremony.  
  • Late Neolithic Britons appeared to have changed their religious beliefs, ceasing to construct large chambered tombs that are widely thought by archaeologists to have been connected with ancestor veneration. Instead, they began the construction of large wooden or stone circles.
  • By the Iron Age, the site had been effectively abandoned, with some evidence of human activity on the site during the Roman occupation. 
  • During the Early Middle Ages, a village first began to be built around the monument.
  • In the Late Medieval and Early Modern periods, locals destroyed many of the standing stones around the henge.
  • In 1997 Siebrand & Carol first visited Avebury and were so impressed as to express a wish to come back for a longer visit!
  • In 2014 I did go back, convinced that Jeanette would love this place as I do. 
This is a great illustration of the layout of ancient Avebury. 

May I suggest you click on the image to see it more clearly. We visited Silbury Hill, The Sanctuary and all around Avebury itself with its amazing array of stone pillars plus the Stone Circles. 
An amazing parade of stones going back to 2000-3000 years BC! 

 At Silbury Hill
The Sanctuary was first constructed in about 3000 BC and archaeologists have suggested that 'the site might have been a new clearing on Overton Hill or it might have been regarded as of ceremonial importance. The function of the Sanctuary remains a mystery, although a number of clues suggest that the choice of site might have been made because it had traditional importance.'
Huge numbers of human bones were found and recorded by earlier antiquaries and more fragments were found in the 1930s excavations, scattered in the soil, together with much evidence of food. This suggests that the rituals that took place in the successive buildings on the site were accompanied by elaborate feasts involving animals and a great range of ceramic vessels. 
The site of the Sanctuary.
Aerial view of the Sanctuary, clearly showing the stone circles.
These delightful pastoral settings in Avebury built among ancient stones!
And next to it, The Red Lion where we had a tasty lunch.

Sections of the Avebury Stone Circles dating back to 3000 years BC!
We were glad we took time to enjoy it!

Arriving in Bath, we found our accommodation with some difficulty, but eventually arrived to meet our host. Located on Bristol Road, it was within reasonable walking distance to the city that meant we could leave the car parked in its spot.
What I especially noticed in Bath was its increase of traffic. No more the quiet and relaxing city it was in the past, but still beautiful with lots of energy. The walking did us good. Let us therefore invite you to share our walks and enjoy the sights, like:
 A welcoming door.
 One of the most prominent sites in Bath.
The Roman Baths.

Just a stone throw away is the Bath Abbey. There is nowhere else quite like Bath Abbey. Magnificent stained glass windows, columns of honey-gold stone and some of the finest fan vaulting in the world, create an extraordinary experience of light and space. But there is more to it than that. There has been a place of Christian worship on this site for over 1,200 years and the Abbey remains very much a living church today with services taking place throughout the entire week.  

Together with flowers and Jeanette, it makes for a very pretty picture!
 Bath Abbey surrounded by history, flora and colour!
The Abbey door, beautifully carved!
 And inside, oustanding architecture and well maintained!
To think that 'after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by order of King Henry VIII, the Abbey lay in ruins for more than 70 years. The valuable parts of the building had all been taken away, for example the beautiful stained glass windows were ripped out and the roof was stripped for the lead. It wasn’t until 1616, that much of the building we see today was repaired and in use as a parish church.'
So beautiful!
 We can't miss this beautiful instrument!
(Love to have a go at it in an empty church!)
 With glorious public parks so close.
 The River Avon with the Pultney Bridge make  for a great picture.
A popular photo of the River Avon & Pultney Bridge.

With a sparkling/sunny day, the above scene was an invitation to board a small boat for a a couple of hours of river cruising on the River Avon. Too easy! We got as far as Bathampton where there  is an old bridge that still requires a toll for vehicles to cross.
 A service of the past that I am sure, has many stories to tell!
 Returning to Bath.

Our B&B was quite close to the well known Royal Crescent. The Royal Crescent is a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed and built between 1767 and 1774, it is among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture in UK.  

Being so close to our digs, we were more than happy to wander up and took our time having a look:
The Royal Crescent. 

Time did not allow us to see all what Bath offers, but climbing up to Alexandra Park we were able to enjoy the following views of the city. It was well worth the effort: 
 No wonder we loved it!

We set aside one full day to explore the Kennet & Avon Canal that passes through Bath from Bristol for over 170 kilometers with 105 locks all the way to Reading where it flows into the Thames. This impressive engineering phenomena, made up of two rivers and a linking stretch of canal, has always fascinated me. It was only reopened in 1990 after decades of dereliction. 

Knowing that it passes through some of England's most beautiful countryside with its quaint villages, I knew that Jeanette would enjoy it with me. And....we did! It's a fabulous trip to make. I thought we could get as far as Newbury, but was over optimistic. Instead. we got as far as Caen Hill. While time in the end defeated us, our brains were on over load with so much to see and absorb.
 We pick up the system in Bath.
Locks in Bath.

Picking up the canal again in Dundas, we happily made new friends who live in Jersey.

Of great interest in Dundas is the restored aqueduct  that was originally built between 1797 and completed in 1805.  Dundas Aqueduct crosses the River Avon. It is 150 yards (137.2 meters) long with three arches and was closed in 1954 because of the many leaks that had developed over the years. The subsequent restoration is indeed a great credit to all who worked on it with the reopening in 1984.

 Crossing the River Avon.
Dundas Aqueduct.
Ingenuity, architecture, ambiance, beauty and sheer pleasure all combined!
 Way to spend a vacation. Slow pace is good for the heart, I am sure!
At Dundas.

We finally arrived at the Caen Hill Locks near Devizes in the mid afternoon. The  Caen Hill Locks provide the best insight into the engineering needed to build and maintain the canal. The main flight of 16 locks, which take 5–6 hours to navigate in a boat, is part of a longer series of 29 locks built in three groups, including the sixteen at Caen Hill. It is truly an amazing build.  The total rise through the 29 locks is 72 meters or 237 feet in 3.2 kilometers or 2 miles - a 1 in 30 gradient. The locks were the last part of the 140 kilometer route of the canal to be completed. 
 The WOW factor!
 The flight of 16 locks at Caen Hill forming part of locks 22-50.
 We enjoyed afternoon tea at this delightful cafe (top left).

As expected, our time in Bath ran! But we thoroughly enjoyed our visit and would have stayed longer if there had been more time! Alas! Thank you for your hospitality and sense of humour:
Yep... a sense of humour!
 ..and  friendliness. Cheers!

But the last fact belongs to the historical link of Bath to Australia through Captain Cook
who, of course, discovered the Great South Land we glad call Australia & Home.
Yes, 'I still call Australia Home!'
Captain Cook Memorial in Bath Abbey