Thurs 7th June 2012
A very very wet day today as we head for the Cotswolds in England. We had such a comfortable sleep in our Shepton Mallet B&B, Maplestone. Finally, we met the lady of the partnership at breakfast. She came out to tell us to eat quicker, as our full cooked breakfast was already going cold. Nice to meet her though. A lovely breakfast as well. The owners suggested we go to Wells and see the Cathedral there before heading on to Salisbury Cathedral. So we did. Raining all the way of course, but well worth the short trip from Shepton Mallet to Wells. The beautiful circa 1250 cathedral stands in a square green with lovely old houses surrounding it on 3 sides, making it a remarkable site in which to see a cathedral. Very picturesque even in the pouring rain. All cathedrals we see seem to definitely be in the centre of the village as the hub but this was just a little different with the big green grassed square being the middle instead. Every church we enter is always different from the last We are now seeing so many more people are actually buried inside the churches of England, mostly under the stone floors. In the Wells Cathedral, there is a wonderful clock that, at the strike of 11am, the Curit stood by it and said a beautiful prayer for all travellers and visitors. This prayer gave us confidence in our drive around the Cotswolds that God was looking after us well.We needed it later that day as you will soon read. The clock is a little like a weather vane where the man and lady come out depending on the weather (if I can explain the clockwork mechanism in that way). The churches all have many tombs inside them with the person portrayed on the top. We saw this in Italy and France as well but not as many in one church, as we are seeing in England. We are still not "all churched out" as some may expect. We were now off to experience Salisbury Cathedral which was the main reason to head south from Bath before going to the Cotswolds further north. Des and I have both read " Pillars of the Earth" by Ken Follet. He apparently based the book on the building of this Cathedral so we really wanted to see what made it different. Different it is! Firstly, it has the highest steeple in Britain and inside a miniature model of how it would have been built with tiny figures all working on it in various workshops. I actually took several photos from all angles of the model as it was so interesting. Having just had the prayer by the Curit for all of us in Wells cathedral and feeling this was such a lovely touch, we were then asked, in Salisbury Cathedral, if all in the Cathedral would mind either sitting down or just standing quietly where they were for a few moments while a prayer was said. We all then were asked to respond with the Lord's Prayer in our own dialect. This was an even more moving experience than at Wells and it made this church even more powerful as the presence of God was so evident here. I was actually crying by the time we finished the prayer where we all just quietly moved on around the church, viewing and enjoying its magnificence.
Inside Salisbury Cathedral is like being in a graveyard as so many people are buried in it. Where ever you are walking, you are walking on graves and you are seeing so many tombs inside this very hallowed place that dates back to 1197. In 2008 to cellabrate the 750 years anniversary, a very modern font was installed right in the middle of the church. It is huge and is like a pool really. It is in total contrast to the ancientness of the church. There are also a couple more large modern sculptures within the church as well. This church also has the world's oldest working mechanical clock from 1386.
In the Chapter House is the best preserved of 4 surviving original Magna Carta sealed by King John in 1215. It is explained in todays modern English. It is about the relationship between the King and his subjects and their rights. It has significance in today's world as well. We loved the experience of coming to see this church and now I am looking forward to reading the sequel to "Pillars" as it now means so much more to me having seen this Cathedral in all its glory.
Lunch there in the cafe/souvenier shop and then off we went to view Stonehenge on our way to the Cotswolds. This was again spoilt by the heavy rain but it became our cheapest experience so far. As we drove into the car park, we did not see the very small sign (so many are very small in England as I said in the last blog) to tell us we needed to pay to park. We got out, pleasantly surprised that such a tourist attraction was not reeping benefits from parking. We started walking through the pouring rain to the entrance where you pay to walk underneath the road we had just travelled over and had already seen the stones on our way in. When we were within distance of reading how much it would cost to do that, and were standing there aghast, a couple walked by us and gave us a good tip. They suggested to us quietly, that we should just walk out the gate, cross the road and see the stones from the outside of the fence line. This would be free and the stones are very close to the road. They felt it was almost as close as the paying people can get as it is now roped off anyway. Well we took their advice. Crossed the road, took the obigatory photos in the pouring rain and walked straight back to the car. All for free!!! Then we saw the tiny sign saying to pay for parking to the attendant. What attendant? So back in the car and with a skid and a roar in the mud, off we went, once again wet through but we had seen Stonehenge. Maybe we can go back there one day as well.
Finally, we were on the road to Cheltenham for our 2 nights stay at the Mercure Hotel. and to finally see the Cotswolds area as well. Like Bath, Cheltenham is very confusing to drive into and try to find your way around. There are ring roads, an inner ring road and one way streets with no street signs. It took us almost 2 hours and asking directions of 4 people this time, before we finally found the Hotel. Interestingly enough it also had a slightly different name - Queens Mercure - that didn't help. Yep we could finally see it but how do you get into the parking area its all one way as well right there. OK thats the way. Get out of the car - still pouring - haul the bags to the front entrance - no thats not the way Des, I'm not walking through the dining room wheeling my bag with everyone looking at the slightly peeved and very wet couple coming in. Ah the front entrance. Yep you guessed it! Narrow revolving doors! We somehow managed to manouver the bags through it. There was the receptionist. By this time I lost the plot! I felt terrible about it every time I saw her after that. She was so sweet and didn't need me to vent my absolute anger and frustration at the whole process of just getting to where we were standing right now. I blasted her with "What the hell is the point of stupid revolving doors like this when people have large and heavy bags to get through them!!!!!!" It was actually just the last straw for me with Des complaining about my poor map reading and growling at me all the time. We were just going around and around in circles in yet another town again. Des never complains either so this made me feel so incompetant. OK starting to calm down now and realize what a horrible person I had just been to this very sweet innocent young woman who was just so understanding and helpful. Looking around now, I could see we had come to a very beautiful old hotel and its location was just at the end of the main shopping street so easy to walk to dinner later on. No need to go in the car Yay! We went to our room to find it to be just perfect. Off to dinner in another Pub to help calm us down. Finally before bed, we checked out the fabulous dining room I had refused to walk through before, where we would have free breakfast each morning we stayed there. Whew! we made it! We are in the middle of the Cotswolds and ready to discover it .... that is if we can ever work out how to get back out of the town again.