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March 19, 2004
In Lacock, we had lunch at the George Inn, a tavern from 1361.
Afterwards we visited the Lacock Abbey, a member of the National Trust that was remodeled in the Gothic revival style in the early 18th century. It has been the setting for a number of TV and motion pictures, including "Pride and Prejudice" and recently "Harry Potter." In early spring, the grounds are covered in sheets of snowdrops. The Abbey is famous because it is where, in 1840, William Henry Fox Talbot, a widely respected botanist, took the first photographic exposure on a sensitized paper negative of a window in the Abbey. This was a special treat for me! To literally stand in exactly the precise spot Talbot had! A marvelous 16th-century barn has been converted into a museum displaying his experiments. The town of Lacock itself is very charming and worth a visit, but we did not have the time.
One village had many thatched roofs complete with animals at one end of the top of the roof on the gable made out of thatch. These were made by the artisan who constructed the roof.
We continued onto charming Castle Combe, a little town of that really had everything a Cotswolds village should be.
The guide was good, the group small, in a minivan and the price seemed fine for what we got. If the weather had been sunny, it would have been fabulous. Stops are adequate, but short, so be ready with the camera and be prepared to run to the van!
I do not usually take tours, but this was a wise decision and I am very glad we took it.
From journal Six weeks driving around the UK
January 20, 2001
We drove through Box, where Peter Gabriel (singer/songwriter) has his studio and on through part of Wiltshire to Stongehenge. This world famous monument is a masterpiece of engineering and a remainder to all of us of the prehistoric people who built it. Standing on the rolling uplands of the chalk downs, it's construction and development spanned a period of over 1,500 years. However, it is what it is....a grouping of stones standing in a pasture. We don't know what they were placed there for, and placed they were...as the stones had to be hauled about 30 miles from Marlbrough Downs, possibly on wooden rollers. It is traditionally thought that these stones were placed for astronomical alignment, with the sun shining along the avenue at dawn and centered on the Altar stone. The sunset of the Winter Solstice also falls on this axis, with the sun setting behind the Altar stone. Perhaps this winter festival marked the beginning of the season of rebirth.
On to Avebury, after a stop to view the Cherhill Horse, carved into the side of the hill in 1780 by Dr. Christopher Alsop. Avebury was my favorite stone circle. It is 16 times larger than Stonehenge, with a village located in the midst of the stone circle. There doesn't appear to be any astrological alignment with the Avebury stones. With other evidence found at Avebury, it is generally thought that this site was used for fertility rites. When I asked John if the villagers were more fertile that the rest of Great Britain, we all had a big laugh...they aren't.
Next stop was at Lacock Village. The village and it's Abbey are almost entirely owned by National Trust. Most of the properties date from between the 13th and 18th centuries when this village was a thriving woollen market. There are many fascinating buildings in the village including the 14th century tithe barn and the blind house where the drunks were locked up. George Inn, built in 1361 is still a thriving public house and has an original dog wheel.
In 1962, Castle Combe was voted the prettiest village in England, and was used as the setting for the original "Dr. Doolittle" movie a few years later. The name originates from the 11th century when a castle was built over the combe (Saxon for "valley"). The castle became derelict and was replaced in the 14th century with the manor house, which is now the Manor House Hotel. Prices there are quite dear, starting around $250 USD per night. As with much of the Cotswold region, Castle Combe owes its new found prosperity to gentrification and tourism.
From journal Around Bath