Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
My long day started early this morning, at 2:50 am when the laughing conversation of the girls next door awoke me. Annoyed at their inconsiderate behavior, which had gone on from the moment they arrived, I got up and asked them to please remember that we had very thin walls and to please not be the Americans everybody hates because they’re so loud. As I went back to my room, one of the girls stage-whispered, “You’re loud too!” When I got back in bed that comment haunted me and I lay there for a long time wondering if I behaved any better than my neighbors. A fitful two and a half hours later I got up for good, did my morning stuff, prepared myself a bag lunch, and was ready to spend the day on the bus tour Delorey arranged for us. The group originally was meant to be Chris, Mike, Ryan, myself, and Delorey; but Chris woke up too sick to accompany us, and I had to wake Ryan up to leave at 6:35. He threw clothes on and made it, looking a little disheveled.
By 7:15 the three of us were waiting at the Marble Arch, where Delorey said he’d meet us. Eventually he appeared, just late enough to give me some anxious thoughts about missing the bus and losing the £65 we paid for the trip. I bought an excellent croissant while waiting. Later the bus appeared and ironically took us on a slow drive that got us to Victoria Coach Station at 8:00, where we transferred to our correct tour bus. The irony is that Victoria is only one tube stop from where we live, and we could have gotten up significantly later and simply gone straight had we only known.
Our tour was to Windsor Castle, Runnymede, Stonehenge, the George Inn, and the town of Bath (map). As with everything, when I get the free time I will post some of the many pictures I am accumulating, but at last count I had over 500 and sorting/posting them takes quite a lot of time and effort. I just want to get the bare data down right now, so I remember what happened.
First we went to Windsor Castle, which was really an amazing place. We barely touched on any of it, of course, because that’s the nature of bus tours. We did get to walk around, see the changing of the guard, look at the “chapel,” and gawk at many of the state rooms that are open to the public. They had two rooms full of armaments, one hall entirely covered with crests, a special display of some royalty’s fantastically intricate Doll’s House, lots of gold and gold plating, lots of amazing ceilings and carpets and sweeping views of England. Outside it looked exactly like a castle should, and I would have liked to spend more time there but we hustled along to Stonehenge, driving through Runnymede – where they signed the Magna Carta – along the way. The tour guide spouted an endless supply of interesting facts, sounding like a history book, and tripping over her own words to talk about everything from the JFK Memorial to thatched roofs to Georgian architecture to sheep farming in Gloucestershireorwhatevertheycallit. I nibbled my raisin and dried fruit mix and sipped my water sparingly along the way.
Stonehenge is situated directly in the fork of two big roads. Tour busses and tourists swarm all over, listening to the free headsets that tell about Stonehenge history. Although it was a lovely site, it was the only one I didn’t want to spend more time at. I did want to buy a cute souvenir there, but the line looked so long I feared I’d miss the bus so I passed it up (and saved myself like $20, too, but I stil regret it). The rocks are much larger than you expect, and they keep everybody well back from them with a roped pathway. Much of the listening tour seemed to say Why did they make Stonehenge? We don’t really know, but here’s another hypothesis… They did firmly debunk the idea that Druids built it. Ryan likes the alien-landing pad idea, but I kind of wonder if it wasn’t some amazing display of power by some chieftan. Also an interesting note: lots of bugs appeared at Stonehenge. They were winged, some like beetles, others just buggy. But because of the bugs, lots of small black birds also made appearances in swooping groups, snatching the insects out of the air and perching on the stones. We spent an hour there, then trundled off and got lost in the English countryside.
You may think that’s just a turn of phrase, but I’m totally serious. As we passed through scenic green hills dotted with sheep and cows and divided with hedgerows, the road kept narrowing. It became very narrow for a tour bus, and finally the driver stopped and went into a pub, presumably for directions. He came out, we started up again, and the George Inn did eventually hove into view. It’s supposedly England’s second-oldest pub, and possibly its second-most expensive too, because they charge £11 for a meal. But the building, constructed of area stone, did have a patina of age that appealed visually. The whole tiny town, which we only got to spend 50 minutes in, sported houses and churches made out of rough-hewn stone from around that area. The George Inn had a back garden that offered sweeping views of the valley and hill across the way; I enjoyed my lunch of a thick slice of Farmer’s loaf bread, a big hunk of cheese, and an apple there. Delorey and Mike each had a half-pint, which I’m sure cost them dearly.
Finally we drove for quite a while to arrive at Bath, which is known for its probably-Roman baths and its Georgian architecture. The architecture, a very symmetrical style, only really survived because Bath became a backwater during the Victoria era and nobody bothered to tear down the old Georgian buildings — thankfully. Though monotonous after a while, they represent a larger part of history and are quite lovely for a while.
Before our tour of the actual Roman baths, we spent an hour wandering around the immediate area. About six different fudge shops allured us, and I wanted to buy some fudge for my family, but it only keeps for two weeks. Eventually I did buy a caramel apple, while all the guys enjoyed ice cream. TLots of sweets shops vied with the standard retail chains (a Disney Store! Honestly) for space near the building housing the baths. The baths were constructed around the onl hot spring in the UK, which wells up in Bath and around which the Romans constructed elaborate pools, saunas, and such. Apparently later people built right over it and they only rediscovered the Roman ruins because tenants complained about hot water constantly seeping into their basements. Our Bath Baths tour guide spouted lots of information, which I obtained later distilled into a handy pamphlet. We got to walk on the actual Roman paving stones and see some of the lead piping the Romans used; we touched stonework thousands of years old!
Soon enough we trundled back onto the busses and took the two and a half hour long ride back to London. Ryan and I returned to the IES building via Gloucester Road, the first stop our tour bus made, and that brings me up to the minute. I’m glad I did the tour, if nothing else to get out of the city of London, to see the achingly gorgeous rolling green hills and sweeping panoramas of English farmland. God blessed us with temperature maxed out at 23 degrees C and a cloudless sky: possibly our most perfect day here so far, and the perfect way to spend it as well. Even though tour busses
and their regimented time-scales really bother me, I loved the smaller towns and I hope to get back some day to spend more time in those types of places, just walking around them and the surrounding hills. England certainly holds its own for beautiful (although not natural) countryside. Now back to the mundane world of Pollards Hill, MQPs, pollution, no bugs, and endless tube rides.