Today we loaded up on a shuttle bus and struck out for Oxford via Bath and Salisbury. It took us about two hours to reach Bath where we were driven around the city then up to the Golden Crescent where all the wealthy people have townhouses built into a half circle that overlooks the town. I grabbed a couple of quick shots then jumped back on the bus. We were then taken to the city center to explore the Roman baths. We were told we would have only an hour to look around and grab a bite to eat. I'd explored the Roman baths and museum thoroughly when Jane and I visited Bath in 2006. So I just took a few overview shots of the pool area and a few items in the museum. I had also sampled the healing waters in the pump room dispensary (not exactly tasty!) back in 2006 so I didn't feel the need to experience that again either.
When I emerged from the baths, though, I didn't see anyone from our group and panicked momentarily, remembering how Jane and I were almost left behind in Bath because we returned to the bus dropoff point only to discover the bus had been moved two blocks around the corner.
I went ahead and found a little deli where I bought a British pasty filled with bacon, cheese and potatoes and chose a lemon tart for dessert. Then I munched on these goodies while I tried to make my way back to the pickup point. Soon my panic returned as all of the streets began to look alike. I finally realized I must be going in the right direction when I spotted a mime on a bicycle that I had passed on my way to the baths. Then I saw one of the other trip participants and he told me I only needed to go around the next corner to catch the bus. With relief, I reboarded the bus and we took off for Salisbury where we would explore Salisbury cathedral.
We arrived in Salisbury about an hour later. The cathedral is in the center of a grassy field and the locals were celebrating a festival that involved lots of fibrous sculptures of rabbits. When I entered the cathedral I even found some rabbit sculptures inside. I thought this was rather ironic as hares were sacred to the ancient Celts and celebrating hares is like celebrating a pagan tradition on Christian sacred soil. Back in the 1st century CE when the famous Iceni warrior-queen Boudica was revolting against the Roman Empire, Boudica would release a hare at the beginning of each battle to determine if the gods favored the Britons and foretold a victory. This worked well at Camulodunum, a colonia, a settlement for discharged Roman soldiers , now called Colchester, where Boudica's troops razed the city to the ground killing every Roman in sight. Boudica then turned her attention to Londonium. The Romans, having concluded that they lacked sufficient numbers to defend the settlement, evacuated and abandoned Londinium. Boudica led 100,000 Iceni, Trinovantes, and others to fight Legio IX Hispana, and burned and destroyed Londinium, and Verulamium (modern-day St Albans - I visited it in 2006)However, the sacred hare eventually failed her at a site still not definitively determined along what is now Watling Street in the western Midlands where the Britons were finally slaughtered by the vastly outnumbered Roman legions led by Gaius Suetonius Paulinus and Boudica took her own life with poison (or so they say).
The cathedral itself was quite beautiful although I didn't see any gargoyles. Apparently it was modified sometime after its initial construction and maybe the gargoyles were removed. We met a guide inside the cathedral but she didn't talk very loud so I couldn't hear her very well. The interior looked quite similar to other cathedrals I have seen in France and England with high vaulted ceilings, ornate choir screens, colorful and beautifully rendered stained glass and lined with well worn sarcophagi with effigies of the deceased supine on the lids. The cathedral had a very spacious cloistered garden and a number of side chapels devoted to saints including the murdered archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket.
As I prepared to leave the central knave, the choir arrived to practice their songs for the nightly Evensong performance. Their beautiful voices resonated majestically in the excellent acoustics provided by the high vaulted ceiling.
Salisbury was also the site of the signing of the Magna Carta so one of the four original documents was displayed in a side chamber. It was much more beautifully displayed than the copy I had seen earlier in London in the British Library. I also learned it was in Latin, which I had not noticed in London (The ornate medieval script is hard to read). I wasn't allowed to photograph the original but I did photograph an English translation that had been prepared on material identical to the original.
We were running really late and even though we were supposed to visit Christchurch in Oxford before retiring to our hotel it was getting too late for that leg of the journey. So our trip leaders decided to take us to a roadside service area where we could grab a bite to eat. Most of the restaurants were American like Subway, Burger King and KFC. Several of my friends and I opted instead for Harry Ramsden's World Famous Fish and Chips. I was a little bit dubious since Jane and I ordered fish and chips at a restaurant in London and the fish was cooked with the skin on making it taste really fishy. When I got to the counter the customer service person asked if I wanted a regular portion or a large portion. I was really hungry so I asked her how big the large portion was. She grabbed a pair of tongs and walked over to the food prep area and grabbed a huge slab of cod and held it up. I laughed and told her I better stick to the regular size. Thankfully, the skin had been removed and the batter was so light it was almost like tempura. The fish was flaky and fresh tasting and was served with a generous portion of plank type fries. I was also given a choice of beans or mushy peas and turned to an older British gentleman in line and asked him about mushy peas. He assured me they were quite tasty but I chickened out and ordered the beans instead. One of my friends ordered the mushy peas and shared a bite with me and I found they were quite tasty after all so if I have a chance to eat at another Ramsden's again I will opt for the mushy peas. The English reputation for best fish and chips has been restored!!