Friday 2nd December 2005
The blustery rain that woke me overnight was still there in the morning for my drive to Salisbury, and in earnest. While not as susceptible to cross-winds as the original VW Beetle we had, the Clio was perhaps understandably skittish with les vents latéral anglais. There was plenty of evidence of local flooding and, although the roads were generally passable, I had to make one 3 or 4 mile deviation to bypass one flooded section.
Needless to say I was appreciative of the long break I took at the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton – which I nearly by-passed on the grounds that I’d already “done two”. But, even for one who’s fast becoming an expert on air museums, what a museum! Not only were there examples of probably every type of aircraft the Fleet Air Arm ever operated, but as good a display of World War I fighters as I’ve ever seen, a Concorde and many more.
I indulged in what was called “The Carrier Experience”, a simulation in which you were transported to “Ark Royal” by helicopter, deposited on the flight deck to watch a take-off and “recovery” – now he’s even starting to sound as if he knows what he’s talking about – to a tour of what I can only assume was a realistic facsimile of the carrier’s “island” and all that went on there. I enjoyed it – youngsters would love it, as they would a wide array of interactive screens and displays at which a range of FAA-related activities or quite sophisticated ones about flight and aerodynamics could be undertaken.
Guess who thrived on it all and had to drag himself away to brave the rain-drenched roads to his next “home”?
Saturday 3rd December 2005
Saturday turned out to be Salisbury Cathedral day. Learning, slowly, that the only way to ensure parking is to be there early, I was in the Cathedral car park soon after 9:00 am. After a quick tour of the CBD mainly to orient myself, I arrived at the Cathedral just before 10:00 am. Waiting in the wings were volunteer guides, one of whom had been with the Commonwealth Force in Borneo. I gather that he had served with some Australians and New Zealanders there, and recognising my accent as being mid-Tasman, took me under his wing so to speak.
In any event, he spent well over an hour with me – and some other later “usurpers” – in what would have to be the most informed and informative tour I’ve had in a cathedral anywhere.
Salisbury is purported to be the first wholly English cathedral and, as such, was built in a single style (Early English Gothic). For me it doesn’t quite have the same sense of soaring height as a number of the later Gothic cathedrals, and perhaps because of the darker colours of the Purbeck “marble” seemed a little gloomy. Nonetheless, I found the clock (by the same unnamed clockmaker who later built the one in Wells) and the beautifully preserved copy of “Magna Carta” appealing, and the “Prisoners of Conscience” window in the Trinity Chapel (predominantly in what will always be for me Chartres “blue”) just as moving as when I first saw it.
During our tour a choir was rehearsing carols which “our” guide mentioned was in preparation for a Carol Service at 3:00 pm that afternoon. Whilst an annual event primarily for invited staff and patients of the National Health Service, he indicated that it was also open to visitors to the Cathedral and we would be welcome to attend. He did point out, however, that it was a very popular service and if we wanted a seat, we’d need to be back by 1:30 pm at the latest.
I didn’t need a second invitation but as my car parking ticket expired at just after 1:00 pm I would need to “shake my shanks” if I was to move the car, find a new spot for it and fit in a bite of lunch. Fortunately, after what seemed like an age looking elsewhere, I found another space in the Cathedral Close itself – somewhat more expensive than the public car parks, but a small price to pay to attend the service. And it was close by (no pun intended)!
So, after a quick “coffee and muffin” lunch in the cafeteria, I was able to stake my claim to a seat about a third of the way up the knave. By 3:00 pm, there wasn’t a seat to be got for love nor money.
The service itself was in the traditional format of Lessons and Carols – the lessons being read, in the main, by patients or staff. Although I could find no mention of it in the programme, I suspect that the choristers were drawn also from the NHS – but from wherever they came, they were just wonderful. I’d have settled for their rendition of the “Sussex Carol” on its own.
As you must have gathered by now, my day at Salisbury Cathedral, enhanced as it was by the Carol Service, was something special.
Sunday 4th December 2005
Sunday started frosty but clear – a day just made for my visits to the “Old Sarum” and “Stonehenge”. In the belief that Stonehenge would be over-run, once it was realised what sort of day it was going to be, I made it my first stop. I’m glad I did because, by the time I left soon after midday, the queues were stretched well back into the car-park. Perhaps I’ve misremembered, but on my last visit I recall having to enter by a subway but being confronted by high and ugly mesh fences around the memorial itself.
The subway entry is still there but the memorial itself is merely roped off – in some places at quite a distance – but the view is now unimpeded and is just great for photography.
I did one circuit listening to the excellent audio-guide and then another just to soak it all up. It really is a magical place.
The English Heritage folk suggested that as it was so close, I might like to visit “Old Wardour Castle”. That seemed like a good suggestion, but what they didn’t tell me (because I suspect they didn’t know) was that the road was closed and, after following the directions on the initial diversion sign for 15 miles without finding another, I turned around and headed back to Salisbury and Old Sarum.
I’d heard about it, read about it even, but was unprepared for its sheer scale, or the spectacular view from the ramparts across Salisbury, its Cathedral and the surrounding countryside. I understand that English Heritage runs special events and re-enactments on the site and I couldn’t imagine a better place to do so. I was happy to settle for a leisurely amble – and scramble – around the hill-fort itself and down to the site of the original Salisbury Cathedral. I spent almost all the early afternoon there until the sight of rain- clouds on the horizon suggested a return “home” might be wise. I beat the rain by half a head!
Monday 5th December 2005
Monday saw me heading towards Cornwall – and two nights at the “Jamaica Inn”, no less. I made a brief side-trip to Glastonbury Abbey on the way, but it turned out to be more a break from driving than a “must-see” find. For whatever reason, despite having all the ingredients that should have appealed, it just didn’t connect.
I took the long way around to my “character” Inn through the Exmoor National Park braving the steep descents and ascents to and from Lynmouth and Lynton – the former is just beautiful.
“Jamaica Inn” is, I suspect, living on Daphne Du Maurier’s name and past glories. It really is just another pub – and a pretty ordinary one at that!! But, my room (named “Squire Bassett” – whoever he was) does have a phone in the room that enables me to resume “dial-up” contact with the wider world, and – wait for it – a four-poster bed!
Tuesday 6th December 2005
Today – another full day at one place – Tintagel. I know I’ve used the word before – but it was just “magical”! So there. And, if you don’t believe me, how about this from the “Heritage Trail” site?
“Though Norman realpolitik put Tintagel on its windy headland, it is as a castle of the imagination that it holds us spellbound – a place of ‘magic casements, opening on the foam of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn’. Was it here that Tristan wooed Isolt? Where Merlin magicked Uther Pendragon into the bed of Igerna, wife of King Gorlois, to father Arthur? And when Arthur became king, did he place his foot in ‘Arthur’s Footprint’ as part of ancient inauguration rites? Look around you, as the sea-light dances and the salt-spray flies, and you can believe whatever you want to believe.”
It was just that sort of place. I probably spent close to three hours there and, given the number of steps and the fact that a round trip is something in the order of 2.5 miles, I’m in better shape – whatever that means – than I was. I got what I hope are some great photos – helped not a little by what was just a glorious day “weatherwise” – what an awful word! Oh, the magic of digital photography when you can take two, or three or four, when before only one would do. Perhaps none will survive, but, at the expense of sounding “soppy”, the magic will remain.
Back at “Jamaica Inn”, it seems only appropriate – even if only to prove that I’m still in the “real world” – that I share with you some of the overheard (eaves-dropped even) snippets of conversation in the bar/restaurant as I enjoyed my roast duck – a vast improvement on last night’s Steak and Kidney Pudding (?): “The gammon steak needs to be cooked!” “…and she’s no better than she oughter be!” “Why doesn’t Sally wear more make-up – heaven knows she needs it!” “English mustard really is the best – what is it people see in that ‘horse-radish’ stuff?” “I think George is going through that ‘male menopausal’ (sic) stuff – whatever the magazines mean by that”.
…and with that, it’s “goodnight” from Norm, who’s off to the Cornwall coast tomorrow – if he can find a bed, that is!