The innkeeper found out that the Cat Tavern in Salisbury holds luggage. So I took the train there, found the funky little bar, handed off my suitcase for 3 pounds, and got on a Reds double-decker tour bus to Stonehenge and Old Sarum. (Avesbury wasn’t on the menu.)
The tour of Salisbury was very interesting; again I wish I had more time. The Old City is picturesque, with narrow streets and lovely old buildungs. One of the four surviving copies of the 750-year-old Magna Carta is housed in the cathedral’s Chapter House.
We headed into the countryside. I found that, by breathing thru my mouth, the aroma of agriculture was hardly noticeable. The driver turned us loose at the Stonehenge Visitor Center, which consisted mainly of shops and restaurants. I got on a shuttle signed “To The Stones,” then walked the last bit on a promenade.
I’ve heard that Stonehenge has been ruined by crowds, fences and a roundabout. It didn’t seem so to me. Set on its spacious mound of emerald grass, and closely approached on its northwest side by a graveled path with a low rail, Stonehenge was fully viewable. About 200 people were loosely spaced around it; the early season and a policy I’d heard about of timed entry tickets may have prevented a crowd. I noticed traffic far off, but it didn’t disturb me. We weren’t allowed within the outer circle of stones. That seemed reasonable, because it would spoil other peoples’ view. I read that special arrangements can be made for closer access.
So–Stonehenge. Smaller than I’d expected, and more ruinous. The stones were crudely shaped, as truly ancient things might be; yet they were immaculate, as if freshly-made. The 150-year-old Victorian bunkers on Alderney had been heavily overgrown with ivy, moss and lichen. But Stonehenge, thousands of years older, looked brand-new (it was recently restored). I had to respect the engineering and labor under primitive conditions that went into its creation. As for its spiritual significance, the fact that it had no practical use (I think its timekeeping function could have been served with more modest equipment) seemed to underscore this community’s need for something immaterial.
I caught another Reds tour bus, and got off at Old Sarum (you really need to see an aerial view, such as the one on the page I’ve linked, to appreciate it). This hill-fort and the market-village it once sheltered was occupied by Romans, Saxons and Normans. Then the village moved to a more advantageous location, becoming Salisbury (which itself is quite old).
I set out to walk around the steep-sided outer ring, separated from the main mound by a deep ditch. It stood far above the land for tens of mikes around–pastures dotted with sheep, fields of some crop with bright yellow flowers, and little farms. The steeple of Salisbury’s cathedral scratched the sky in the distance. The hill-fort was a lot bigger than I thought; it was certainly bigger than Stonehenge, which I’d walked around in about 20 minutes. I was worried that I’d miss the next bus.
There was one entry into the fort; a narrow dirt causeway across the ditch, leading to a ramp between high banks. It was designed to be easy to defend, an earth castle. The top of the hill was a level, spacious site. Once a village, it was now covered in mown grass, except for the cross-shaped foundations of a cathedral. At the center was a smaller, higher hill, defended by its own deep ditch. Here perched the stone ruin of a Norman tower. Anybody who attacked this place with arrows, spears and swords while it was well-manned would have paid a heavy price.
I found supper in a Salisbury pub with good food, the Slug And Lettuce. I redeemed my suitcase and trained up to Waterloo Station in London, whose labyrinths were starting to feel familiar. The Bakerloo underground line took me to Paddington Station, and the Heathrow Connect train carried me on to Hayes & Harlington (map)–close to Heathrow Airport and my final adventure.
H&H seems to be a Muslim community. I saw some women wearing hijabs (Muslim head-scarves) and I passed a hijab store. I also passed three green-groceries with pallets of fruits and vegetables arrayed on the sidewalk. The Airlink Hotel was very nice. The shower in my room was beyond Swedish, with two shower-heads–one fixed and the other on a hose. I had dessert in the hotel’s Indian restaurant and was sorry I hadn’t waited to have dinner there.
The desk clerk told me that Sunday breakfast wouldn’t start until 7:30. My flight was at 9:55; so I would have to miss breakfast. I walked back down Station Street to buy breakfast food. The green-grocers had all shut; but I found an Iceland–a grocery chain that has mostly refrigerated food. I bought yoghurt, orange juice and a bunch of tiny bananas for 2.85 pounds vs. the hotel’s fee of 5.50 for a continental breakfast.