Posts Tagged ‘Uffington’

After our spontaneous expedition to IKEA the night before with Elaine, we kept to our plans to get up early and head out to explore some spots below Oxford that had prehistoric and archaeological significance, which I admit are my favorite kind.

For some reason I woke up humming several recurring bars from “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”, which isn’t quite as strange as it sounds since a) I was raised on a fair amount of Joan Baez folk music and b) we had been talking about race relations and the Old South last night with Elaine at Nandos. I couldn’t shake it though and kept humming them so I finally cracked out the iPad and played it through the stereo, which led to a brief but spirited discussion of if the original version by The Band was better because at least they sounded like they could be Civil War vets. (I come squarely down on the side of Baez’s superior, soaring soprano.)

I also found an original version of “Diamonds and Rust” as well as a duet recorded in the 90s of Baez singing with Mary Chapin Carpenter. You never know what’s lurking in your iPad. Somehow that discussion led to debating what the most distinctive bass line in rock music is and Bear sort of lost that one (he said Eric Clapton’s “The Badge”) to me (Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”) because he couldn’t hum his choice, but he could hum “The Chain”, so obviously “The Chain” was the most distinctive.

We found the Roman amphitheatre in Cirencester very easily thanks to Uma the sat nav and there was a Scout troop nearby with a nice little car park. Since it was 8 a.m., no one was there. Why? Because the English are not so fond of early rising as I have discovered. They don’t even like to keep the stores open particularly long. Our local coffee shops (Costa and Cafe Nero, very respectable chains) close at 6 o’clock sharp. Stores close at 6 too. Even Waitrose doesn’t really like to stay open. Gas stations/garages aren’t open in the morning, so if you’re going on an expedition, best fuel up the day before because it could be 8 a.m. or 9 before you find an open gas station.

At any rate, the amphitheatre itself is just the earthworks now, but it was the second largest in England at one time, capable of holding 8,000.

8,000 people -- Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights, Roman style

Bear did not however re-enact his “Are you not entertained?” speech which he did in the Chester arena.

IMG_1242

Next we headed to the Rodmarton Long Barrow, which Bear was a little unsure of locating at first. “I took satellite photos,” he said grimly. “We’ll see.” This never bodes well, but on this occasion there was actually a clear sign out by the roadway, which is something of a novelty with things like barrows and neolithic sites.

This will be going in my Blair Witch portfolio.

This will be going in my Blair Witch portfolio.

What a novel thought--putting a sign out by the road so you know there's something hiding in the field.

What a novel thought–putting a sign out by the road so you know there’s something hiding in the field.

Last year, Bear had surprised me on one of our excursions by locating some of the famous white horse chalk carvings in the hills through Wiltshire and he drove us by several of them which you can see from quite a distance. They’re really striking, very beautiful and unusual. The banners of the Rohirrim in The Lord of the Rings have an emblem very similar to the Wiltshire horses, which I can’t think is an accident.

the-lord-of-the-rings-the-two-towers-12-miranda-otto-eowyn-of-rohan

Today we went to the Uffington White Horse which is one of the largest and most famous of the cut chalk carvings. It’s believed to be over 3,000 years old.

(aerial view...I'm not that tall)

(aerial view…I’m not that tall)

We were allowed to drive most of the way up to the  carving, which was fortunate since it was lightly snowing that day, and then we hiked the remainder.

I was standing right by the eye! I was standing RIGHT BY THE EYE!!!!

I was standing right by the eye! I was standing RIGHT BY THE EYE!!!!

Traditionally, every seven years during a fair held on White Horse Hill, they would scour and touch up the horse by repairing the chalk filled pits, but it needs more frequent attention now. (Bear helped by removing some trash from part of what I think was the horse’s mane).

Two other sites were connected to the Uffington Horse, so we hiked a little further up and visited Uffington Castle, which is an Iron Age hill fort that was built on the remnants of a Bronze Age fort. The Romans occupied it at one point (isn’t that just like them?) and left some artifacts as well.

See that concrete post? See those sheep all pointed towards it?

See that concrete post? See those sheep all pointed towards it? That’s how it works with these prehistoric religious sites. The rabbits run the stone circles like at the Ring of Brodgar and the sheep run the square/rectangular stuff, like Maeshowe.

Down the edge of White Horse Hill, which is part of the edge of the Berkshire Downs, you can see Dragon Hill which is the site according to legend where St. George battled and slew the dragon. The leveled off cap is chalk white and no grass grows there, which is where the dragon’s blood spilled.

Dragon Hill

Dragon Hill below the lines of the White Horse — that little bald spot is where the dragon’s blood spilled when George slew the dragon.

There was some minor confusion about how to reach Wayland’s Smithy, the next site which was less than a mile away, since we kept seeing signs that said the Ridgeway was closed to motor traffic, but Bear still managed to get us very close.

As it turned out, Wayland’s Smithy was a very popular site and we saw no less than 14 people either there, on their way back form or on their way going to the smithy. The site is a relatively famous long barrow, built just a few centuries after the one at West Kennet by Avebury which we had visited last year. While there, I overheard a man telling his son that the legend was that you would bring your horse and some money and leave the horse tied up at the Smithy, and that when you returned the next day, the money would be gone and your horse would be shoed courtesy of the Saxon god Wayland.

Blair Witch comes to the Berkshires.

Blair Witch comes to the Berkshires.

When they called it a "long barrow", they weren't kidding.

When they called it a “long barrow”, they weren’t kidding.

On the way to Donnington Castle, I looked up this mysterious Ridgeway which turned out to be extremely interesting. It’s sort of like a prehistoric Appalachian Trail that used to connect the southern coast in Dorset to the Wash area in Norfolk and peoples would migrate along the route and traders used it as well. It runs past some of the most important Bronze Age sacred sites in England, including Avebury, the White Horse and Wayland’s Smithy.

Donnington Castle is most demolished at this point (thanks, Civil War!), but the gatehouse is still standing and very impressive.

Donnington Castle

Donnington Castle

Walking up the hill took a little effort on the heels of White Horse Hill, so I decided that it could count for one of my cardio sessions for the week.

View over Donnington

View over Donnington

Secretly, we've decided we're French (the food, the food) so I got the hat to prove it.

Secretly, we’ve decided we’re French (the food, the food) so I got the hat to prove it. Yes, that’s snow flakes on my glasses.

Bear had planned a stop at a Roman site next, in keeping with the predominantly pre-BC theme of the day. It was a little confusing though as nothing at Silchester seemed to be above ground.

Seriously--there used to be a gigantic Roman town there, but it was abandoned and not re-purposed into a new town. It's all under there. Somewhere.

Seriously–there used to be a gigantic Roman town there, but it was abandoned and not re-purposed into a new town. It’s all under there. Somewhere.

There has been excavation there ongoing since the 1890s though it was a little hard to tell exactly what they had found, and since it was still steadily snowing, we decided that was fine and went on to lunch.

This is where the excavation is taking place. Just not right now.

This is where the excavation is taking place. Just not right now.

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to park on Festival Way in Basingstoke, but it’s an experience to be experienced. So to speak. I for one am all for plentiful parking, something that England is sorely in need of, and this place has it in spades. The trick is actually finding your way out of the parking garage. Eventually we fought our way through Debenhams (shoot me if I ever have to work in a department store) and found the Nandos only to learn it was a 20 minute wait for a table. There was a tapas restaurant next door and although I generally am not a fan of Spanish culture, life, fashion, cinema, etc, I do really really really like tapas. (Put olives, cheese and tomatoes in anything and I’m yours.) So I dropped about twice the usual amount but it was for a really good cause!

All kinds of tapas goodness--a Spanish frittata, vegetarian cassoulet, some sort of roasted chicken thighs for Bear, roasted garlic mayo, red pepper sauce...

All kinds of tapas goodness–a Spanish frittata, vegetarian cassoulet, some sort of roasted chicken thighs for Bear, roasted garlic mayo, red pepper sauce…

We had no idea where the car park ticket payment machine was, so we decided to follow some young women with children, but as it turned out they didn’t know either and had been planning to follow us. Thankfully we figured this out in the elevator on the way to the car before we blindly chased our tails. (It’s in parking area C, btw.)

On to Farnham Castle where Bear learned several things, primarily that he was really, really cold. I said it was his own fault for having continued to lose weight and all that essential insulation. We also learned that Farnham Castle has been around since pre-Norman Invasion times and managed to stay in the middle of things but not get completely knocked over, which is a little difficult to pull off. Elizabeth I came and stayed at Farnham for an extended period, possibly to avoid an assassination threat, which right there makes you pretty special as a castle.

All really civilized castles need a good garden to go with them.

All really civilized castles need a good garden to go with them.

the inner keep, of which there were several apparently (some destroyed and others rebuilt on the same foundation)

The interior of the keep, of which there were several apparently (some destroyed and others rebuilt on the same foundation)

Waverley Abbey was nearby, so we managed to squeeze in one more for the day, thus setting a personal best record for most number of English Heritage sites in a single day.

I kind of want this in my backyard. It's not enough that I have a river, now I want a bridge.

I kind of want this in my backyard. It’s not enough that I have a river, now I want a bridge.

The abbey was the first Cistercian abbey founded in England in 1128 and is settled on a really beautiful little stretch of flat pastureland, currently maintained by some placid looking, very large cows. Waverly House (no idea what it is) is located opposite a canal/stream.

Waverley House

Waverley House

Apparently Sir Walter Scott used Waverley Abbey as the inspiration for his novel Waverley, however when I got back to the car and looked it up on Wikipedia, I found that Wikipedia itself disputed this and mentioned that the sign at the entrance had it wrong. Sir Walter Scott probably named his hero after the brand of pen he used to write the novel and not a random abbey.

We'll say he's there for scale and not that he wandered into the picture.

We’ll say he’s there for scale and not that he wandered into the picture.

Gorgeous tree.

Gorgeous tree

If the trunk were teeth though, it would need braces.

If the trunk were teeth though, it would need braces.

But even more interesting to the geek in me was learning that the Waverley Abbey site had been used as a location for the film 28 Days Later for a scene.

Jim (Cillian Murphy, Scarecross from The Dark Knight) and Selene (Naomie Harris, the new MIss Moneypenny from Skyfall) walking in front of the exact same tree.

Jim (Cillian Murphy, Scarecrow from The Dark Knight) and Selene (Naomie Harris, the new Miss Moneypenny from Skyfall) walking in front of the exact same tree.

Since we had brought that movie with us from America, we quickly made  a deal– to pull it out as soon as we got home, put in our 10 pins on the English Heritage map, then put dinner on the table and watch a really fine action-horror movie, one that marked the mainstream breakthrough of the post-apocalyptic zombie survival scenario (followed by the equally awesome 28 Weeks Later). And then I promptly discovered that the movie I actually had was 28 Days with Sandra Bullock, and not 28 Days Later with Cillian Murphy. (My copy is actually somewhere in my storage shed in America.) Sigh.

7 hours, 311 miles, 10 sits, a whole lotta fun

7 hours, 311 miles, 41.5 mpg, 10 sites, a whole lotta fun

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