Before I return to the story of our trip, first driving a car in Britain again -- so far, so good, or at least as good as could be expected, which to me means no tickets and no accidents. One word explains the experience better than any, roundabouts. Yes, I'm driving a stick with my left hand on the right side of the car on the left side of the road, but more difficult than any other is what I called a "turnabout" in part one, which is a roundabout actually.
The U.S. has roundabouts, but they are very infrequent and easier, more like four way stops. I've been driving now three days here and the drill has sharpened me, because you've got these unique features of British driving about every three miles, it seems, stacked one upon another. They are very often and basically an uncontrolled intersection, that seem like the middle of what I remember from my youth as the demolition derby. Everyone, of course, enters on the left, giving right away to those on the right, but based on a judgment call -- three to six entrance and exit points transected through a circle. Look to your right to see if that oncoming traffic will keep coming roundabout or exit to your right. Diddly-dee and diddly-do, make sure that he doesn't crash into you. Someone behind you is in serious judgment of your decision if it isn't quick, expect a blast from his horn. Every success brings a fresh cleansing breath, a sigh of relief and onto the next, sometimes merely a half a mile away.
Why does Europe drive small cars? Global warming? Nope. Very narrow two way roads that are actually one lane roads, built for two, like the bi-seat bicycle. You are an island after all, and last time I checked, no one's making any new property. Crazy and maybe surpassing roundabouts are the alley-width paths you drive in England. All the time you come to a car and only one shall pass, requiring the pull over, over meaning into dirt or other subtle indentations. Just do it. It's all that will work, and if you do, you usually get a hand wave. I mean it. You get a reward on earth, the wave of a hand. Some of the roads are so narrow -- without exaggeration -- that someone is going to have to back up to the nearest possible turn out to allow for the other to pass.
I'll do a separate airbnb evaluation, but our first two nights we slept in a barn, a converted one, and a stone one. Many houses are stone in Western England, even the roofs. Walls for fences, very long ones that go for miles, are made out of rocks, not bricks, stacked up very carefully and sometimes mortared in between, sometimes not. You see deep green valleys with rolling hills dotted by puffy, fluffy white sheep, grazing. The birds sing like I've never heard in England, something close to which you might hear at the Masters golf tournament in the May in Georgia.
Our four ate a nice self-served breakfast at the airbnb in Circencester, pronounced Siren-sester, actually an even smaller Perrot's Brook. We drove to Bibury fifteen minutes away to rows of aged stone cottages as old as anything in England, still inhabited, stream passing through the middle with old mill, water wheel, walking bridges, and miniature shops with front doors shorter than six feet.
Next was Bourton-on-the-Water, yes, with the hyphens provided, fancying itself the Venice of the Cotswolds because of its series of stone bridges connecting two sides of a peaceful river with fowl straight out of central casting. The town has a model town duplicating the entire town all of stone with workers maintaining the model fastidiously on hands and knees. Each little shop has a character with the English accent.
We four then drove through the renowned both Lower and then Upper Slaughter to Stow-on-the-Wold, where we saw the oldest functioning Inn in the nation and ate lunch at Lucy's Tea Room, partaking in the traditional British custom with a pot of hot tea and various baked goods, scones and cakes and the like. We walked the narrow lanes and alleys, popping into the small businesses, and visited the large Cathedral in center of town to see aspects of historical significance. Inside the building and in the yard are the graves and tombs holding remains of centuries old important figures of that town. Other markers memorialize all the men who died from that congregation in the Great War.
Next my family traveled forty-five minutes to Gloucester, pronounced Glauster. Sea gulls circle this coastal city, much more gritty and urban. We traveled here to look at the Gloucester Cathedral, the oldest Norman building in England. It's worth reading about here (along with the pictures). It contains monumental, tennis-court sized stained glass windows, which tell numbers of stories, some to advocate its religious false doctrine. We got in on a free tour from an older Gloucestrian volunteer, full of knowledge. You have these people all over England.
This Cathedral has an abbey, where monks practiced their Catholic rituals, living in adverse poverty, hoping their asceticism might merit favor with God. The cloisters are amazing, enough to attract the Harry Potter films to use in the making of that series. Gloucester Cathedral and the abbey survived because a Plantaganet king of England, Edward II, was buried there after having been murdered. He was an ancestor of Henry VIII, who stood at the very place where we had on the very stones of that Cathedral. Also William the Conqueror's son, Robert, is buried there, a very important figure in that time.
As an aside, we learned two interest facts about the Cathedral. An American is buried in the building, a diplomatic emissary of Thomas Jefferson, William Lyman, who happened to die in the area hot springs, so they just deposited and then marked his remains there. You've heard of Francis Scott Key. Well, a British and American flag hang at the Cathedral, because the author of the music, yes, the music of our national anthem, was written by someone raised in town from that church, John Stafford Smith, who is also interred there.
As we were ready to leave the Cathedral, a nun puffed up to where we were, begging me to please stop talking because my voice bounced everywhere in the entire building, carrying into her class. She was the very head lady of the entire organization. I barely talked except to ask questions or to laugh at our guide's humor. Still my voice reverberated to the extent that it stopped all business there.
Tuesday night we drove back home and then ate at The Falcon Inn, and I ordered the fish pie. Good stuff eaten on a heavy wooden table with heavy wooden beams above.
The next morning we packed and rose to drive to Lacock, one of the oldest, best preserved old and still inhabited villages in England. Just driving into the town is a sight. All over England are these national trust properties, taken care by the British people through taxes, donations, entrance fees, and sales. We paid to visit the Lacock Abby where is amazing Gothic architecture and where lived the inventor of the photograph, William Henry Fox Talbot. The abbey was preserved from destruction in part because it was purchased by Sir William Harrington, who converted it to a residence. In my opinion, he did a poor job, but deserved an A for effort.
The Talbot name became prominent through a female descendant married into that name, followed by family who continued to live there until 2009. My wife liked the kitchen downstairs, still in mid 19th century condition, telling the tale of a bygone era of household. The abbey is a mixture of ancient Catholic, ascending Protestantism with the destruction of Catholic images, and the combination of the latest British aristocracy and scientists. Talbot was an early member of the British scientific society, hosting many prestigious guests.
The cloisters of the Lacock Abbey rival Gloucester's, again attracting the Potter producers also to use for their film. The village of Lacock inspired the settings for several British made films, because of the authenticity of its appearance. Next we set off for Bath.
Bath is as different as anything we saw. Jane Austen lived in Bath and incorporated it into several of her stories. The Avon River of Stafford on Avon, Shakespeare's hometown, winds through Bath down to the Atlantic, under the Putney Bridge, a stone structure with the businesses still in operation. Bath is pronounced Bawth and is named for the Roman Baths, back to the imperial period on the island. The hot springs attracted for hygiene and medicinal purposes. They are from the Roman era, which is still seen all over Britain.
Also in Bath is the Georgian architecture of the famous Royal Crescent, a half circle of amazing stone houses in inimitable splendor, and with an original cobble stone street in front. We ate a Sally Lunn bun from an 18th century bakery. Bath is built on a hill similar to San Francisco but with much narrower and winding streets, very challenging to drive. We succeeded at arriving and then departing in time to attend a strict Baptist church in Kensington at 7:30pm, coming back to a flat in West London.
More to Come.