United Kingdom Stories and Tips

Windsor to Thornbury

After bidding London adieu, it was a quick train ride to the town of Windsor where I checked into the Castle Hotel. Other than location and the fact that it does have an elevator, there is little to recommend about the place (see review). The location, however, was perfect. Windsor Castle was right across the street and the flying royal standard told me the queen was in residence. Not that her majesty's presence changed anything for me. We never came close to crossing paths. It was nice to know, though, that she was sleeping across the street, albeit a bit more comfortably than me. More on Windsor can be found in my section on the castle itself. Suffice it to say here that St. George's Chapel is a true Gothic wonder. Among the most interesting learnings of the entire trip was that Henry VIII was buried with Jane Seymore and later joined by Charles I.

From Windsor, I went to Heathrow and picked up my rental car. (See "Driving in the UK") The problems encountered put me on the road an hour later than planned and I never seemed to make up that hour. Once on the road, things went more smoothly than expected and I made my way uneventfully to Avebury, making the briefest of stops at Silbury Hill.

The entire Salisbury Plain was populated by very early Britains who were prolific builders of large cerimonial and burial structures. Very little is known about these people and the uses of the henges and hills they left. Silbury Hill is basically a smoothed over step pyramid. It is known that the long barrows such as the famous one in West Kennet were used as burial chambers. Avebury, Silbury, and West Kennet are so close to each other that you can easily see one from the other. Compared to Stonehenge, the stone circles at Avebury are much larger and composed of single stones. A charming village has grown in the middle of the complex. Avebury does not convey the same sense of power and workmanship as Stonehenge, but it has its own mysteries and complexities.

Although close as the bird flies, it was a long drive from Avebury to Glastonbury. The drive was pure joy as it rambled through the West Country, in and out of the Cotswolds, past farms, by castle ruins, aligning with all I expected of England.

Glastonbury is one of those places where I wish I had spent more time. A quick bus trip part way up the Tor revealed a hill rather similar to the one at Sillbury, certainly not large enough to hold the Camelot of my imagination. The tower at the top did not date back to Roman times and was built no earlier than the 15th century. Chalice Well is now the site of a very commercial meditation and healing center. People still take the healing powers of the well very seriously. Walking back into town from Chalice Well, the bus driver and passengers recognized me and stopped to pick me up. One of those nice little experiences that made the trip so light-hearted.

I left Glastonbury thinking of it as the age-old home of new age. Every other shop had something to do with mysticism or witchcraft or something of the ilk. Still, I would have liked more time for exploration.

The highlight of Glastonbury for me was the Abbey in which history, legend and myth all combined. Regardless of what one believes, there is no doubt that the Abbey ruins are beautiful. The architecture is stunning and evocative in its simplicity. This was my first encounter with the results of Henry VIII's disolution of the Abbeys and it left me mourning the loss of the structures and wishing they had been turned to other uses rather than destroyed. For some, the Abbey is also the burial place of Arthur and Gwenyvere with Glastonbury itself being Avelon. Indeed, a sign marks the area in which 12th century monks claimed to have found Arthur's tomb. Given the likely pressure they were under from the Plantagenets to find something of the sort, the claim's credibility is slim to none. Also at the Abbey is a descendant of the holythorn tree said to have sprung from Joseph of Arimathea's staff. Joseph, Jesus's uncle on his mother's side, supposedly brought the holy grail to England from Jerusalem. From Glastonbury, it was a quick 10 minutes' drive to Wells followed by a frustrating half hour of trying to find how to get near the cathedral. Once that was done, I found parking right across the street and marvelled at the statues on the exterior. On entry, it quickly became clear that a service was about to begin. A fully garbed bishop was my first clue. I was allowed a few fast shots of the scissor arches before being rushed out. Unfortunately, the my flash didn't work well for any of them.

From Glastonbury, I slowly found my way to Thornbury. Once in Thornbury, I drove right by the Castle gates and ended up have to go all the way around the town trying to find the place. Luckily, it's a pretty small town. The hunt was worth it. Thornbury Castle Hotel well exceeded my expectations. (See review). The staff were pleasant. A young woman in a full-length maid's uniform carried my bag up the one flight to my room. What a room! The Bedford Room was a bit overwhelming with its gilt canopy bed, but the table and chairs by the fireplace were very inviting. The bathroom was gigantic and had everything anyone could want, including a bidet and a towel warmer. The only problem was having Henry VIII staring at you while you used the porcelain facilities. It should be noted that Henry VIII did stay at the castle once with Anne Boleyn. That gaudy bed turned out to be incredibly comfortable. More to come...

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