Avebury, Glastonbury, Wells, Bath, and Stonehenge
This past weekend (mostly) everybody at the Ithaca College London Centre got the wonderful opportunity to explore the English West Country. We began our trip bright and early in the morning, all stuffed into a single coach bus and started on our way. Nearly everybody fell asleep immediately upon arriving on the bus because they just couldn’t seem to keep their eyes open. I, on the other hand, couldn’t even think about closing my eyes because I was so excited about taking in the brilliance of the English countryside. While everybody else caught some ZZZs, my eyes were glued to the window watching all the illustrious rolling hills zoom past. I couldn’t help but feel like a character from a Jane Austen or Bronte sister novel, traveling far and wide to go see some distant relative or go to some illustrious Victorian ball. I highly recommend listening to some British music, while riding along, (i.e. Bowie, Adele, or the Beatles), to further heighten the experience. If you’re too tired to stay awake, certainly fall asleep on the bus so you are well rested for all the stops along the tour. Just be forewarned that you’re missing out on some of the most picturesque English landscapes that simply shouldn’t be missed.
Our first stop was at the Avebury henge; Stonehenge’s lesser-known little sibling, if you will. What Avebury lacks in grandeur in comparison to its world renowned older sibling, it certainly makes up for it in charm, (and sheep!). The massive rocks are actually quite far apart and make for a very nice walk through some farmland. It surprised me to see an entire herd of sheep lazily grazing through the grass right by the Avebury henge. They seemed much less impressed with the boulders than we all did, but they were quite welcoming, with some being friendly enough to allow us to pet them. The best part of the experience is that you can actually walk right up to the colossal stones and touch them. Getting up close and personal allows you to see just how impressive the stones are, and just how impressive it is that our Neolithic ancestors were able to move them. Standing near them certainly made me feel small, but it made my mind wander to enormous possibilities about what they might represent and why they were left there.
We all hopped back on the bus and headed off to our next destination. Only a short hour later we arrived in Glastonbury, a quirky town that reminded me a bit of Ithaca. A lot of the locals wore dreads in their hair and hippie-sandals on their feet so I couldn’t help but feel like I was taking a stroll down The Commons. We all got a tour of the ancient, and now ruinous, Glastonbury Abbey which was nothing short of magnificent. The fact that the Abbey was in ruins almost made it more meaningful and impressive, because it’s not every day that you see such a prolific monument in such a crippling state. Our tour guide was named Luke, and he looked as if he had been plucked right out of the Middle Ages with his long beard and ancient English garb. He even told us many people believe Glastonbury to be the final resting place for the famous King Arthur, (you know, the guy who invented the round table), and his wife Guinevere, but it was up to us to decide whether we believe in that myth. After the Abbey, many of us climbed up to the Glastonbury Tor which is 512 feet in height and offers a breath-taking view of the entire town and the surrounding fields. I couldn’t help but feel small standing on top of the Tor, as if I were a small ant on top of a big hill. If ever given the opportunity I highly recommend the short hike up to the peak, because it is something I don’t intend on ever forgetting. It started to heavily rain on all of us as we walked back down the Tor, and even that couldn’t tamper with the beauty of the scenery.
After a lovely afternoon in Glastonbury everybody packed back into the bus and we rode off to Wells. Our main point of attraction in Wells was the Wells Cathedral, or the Cathedral Church of St. Andrew. After seeing the battered remnants of the Glastonbury Abbey, the Wells Cathedral seemed like a stunning example of preservation and history. The architecture was quite impressive, with flying buttresses and ornate stained-glass windows everywhere you looked. The Cathedral even houses the second oldest working clock in the world, which still chimes on the hour. Again, I found myself feeling quite small in comparison to the splendour of the Cathedral, with its high vaulted ceilings and large sacrificial altars. But my appreciation for religion, and the amazing architecture it brought into the world, grew tenfold.
Once we go to our destination we immediately checked into the YMCA, (it really is fun to stay at), and settled in for the night. We were all free to explore the nightlife of Bath, and a lot of us had a really fun time at Belushi’s Pub. It was a Friday night, so the place was quite crowded, and we were able to chat with people from all over the UK. Beer was drank, pool games were played, and everybody headed to bed in a great mood, eager for the day ahead of us.
At what seemed like the crack of dawn the next morning, we were all awake and ready for our tour of the Roman Baths. The museum at Bath is quite extensive, with a great audio-guide companion that tells you all about the ancient city’s history. I learned that Bath is such a beautiful blend of ancient Roman and Celtic culture. What impressed me the most was Roman engineering, and the way they manipulated the space around the hot spring to use to their advantage. I drank some of the natural water from the spring, which tasted of minerals and a bit like blood. I wouldn’t let this discourage you from giving it a taste yourself, and besides, it is thought to have healing powers, which we rightly needed after the night at the pub before. It was amazing to realize that I had migrated to a place that millions had migrated to before me simply because there was a hot spring in the ground. It helped me grasp just how extensive the history is here in England, and just how small I am in comparison to it.
After our comprehensive history lesson, we headed to our final destination: Stonehenge. We actually parked our bus some distance away from the rocks and walked ourselves all the way to the site of the henge. It was very exciting to see them suddenly appear so small on the horizon and watch them grow larger and larger as we approached them. Walking to Stonehenge helped me realize how far the people, (or aliens), had to walk in order to set up the monument. Once we finally reached the boulders it felt amazing standing only a few feet away from one of the most recognizable sites in the world. Something I had seen in pictures countless times before was now suddenly right in front of my eyes. Standing in the wake of Stonehenge, I found myself feeling small again. These massive stones all hold some sort of massive meaning behind them, and I couldn’t wrap my brain around what they stood for and how they’ve stood for it for so long.
We all got on the bus one last time and headed back to the London Centre. The whole trip had exhausted us of our energy and we were happy to be back in familiar territory. From Abbeys and Cathedrals to ancient rocks and hot springs it was a trip that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. The weekend seemed to remind me just how small I am, but I can’t help but feel like I’m actually much bigger after experiencing it all.