Friday, September 22, 2006

Thursday, 21st September – Cotswolds to Cornwall

With a long drive ahead of us to Cornwall we didn’t plan many stops along the way today. It generally takes longer than we expected to get from one place to another. We’ve begun to really appreciate our roads back home. The simple luxury of a lane in each direction was something we always took for granted. And we’ve even started to miss traffic lights – not that they don’t exist here, but there are roundabouts everywhere, some of them huge and others quite complex, so quite scary to negotiate.

But we did have one major destination, and that was Stonehenge, such a famous place and we’ve always wanted to go there. We’d heard lots of people say that when they got there it was smaller than they expected, so they were disappointed, so we geared ourselves not to expect too much, but deep down I think we were hoping that it would therefore exceed our expectations. In fact we were not disappointed – purely from an engineering aspect it was astounding – how did they manage to bring such massive stones all that way (some of the stones came from southern Wales) and erect them with such skill that much of the original stone circle is still standing 3,500 years later. It is an impressive sight although we failed to be moved by the guide’s attempt to spiritualise the place. We passed a group of bored children with a teacher dressed in robes and playing mysterious musical instruments, trying to get the kids enthusiastic about the meaningful experience they’d had. There were a lot of tourists there but spread out over a large area, so it didn’t seem crowded. You can’t walk inside the circle these days due to previous vandalism, which is a shame, but at least it means that you can get clear uninterrupted views – and photos - of the stones. Also in the area, which we had not been aware of, are large numbers of barrows (Bronze Age burial mounds) which you can see as groups of little rounded hills along the ridges in the fields all around.

From Stonehenge it was a 3 hour drive to Cornwall, and we were keen to arrive before dark, so we drove straight there. While we were looking at Stonehenge it was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies, although very windy. When you leave you walk through a short tunnel to access the car park – when we emerged the sky was completely clouded over and grey – very weird (maybe the site is magical after all!). It turns out we were on the edge of Cyclone Gordon, which has caused some damage in Northern Island and also South West England (where we are). It became windier as we drove along, at times it was hard to keep the car in our lane (we were on the motorway by then) and by the time we arrived it was very blustery. Fortunately we were not aware until after it was over quite how bad it was. The other effect though, is that the Cyclone has pushed warm air currents ahead of it, and yesterday it reached 28°C - the hottest September day on record, 10°C above average. Good sightseeing weather, but we have a suitcase full of jumpers and thermal undies!

We had a lovely welcome at our B&B – tea and scones with jam and Cornish clotted cream – and a lovely chat with our hosts, exceptionally friendly people.