Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath

Yesterday, David and I took a guided bus tour to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, Lacock and Bath. Our guide, Steve Evans, did not stop talking about the history of these areas and all of England from the time we got on the bus at 8:30 in the morning until we got off the bus at 8:30 at night!  I took tons of notes and am warning you now to get comfortable as I feel that this posting is going to be extremely long!  It was such an interesting day and tour!

Windsor Castle:  We didn’t have near enough time to see all of this magnificent building!  Fortunately, it is a train ride from London and will be easy enough to go back to for another visit.  Plus, the town looked great to explore.

Windsor Castle is the oldest and longest inhabited castle in the world.  It is said to be the favorite home of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.  Steve explained that Buckingham Palace is considered her office and not her home.

The construction of Windsor Castle began in 1066 after William the Conqueror invaded England from France. It was constructed of timber and built strategically on a hill overlooking the Thames River.  It was one of several castles built around London to form a ring, with the Tower of London being in the center.

100 years later, King Henry II became ruler of England.  He demolished the wooden structure and rebuilt the castle with stone. He, also,  constructed the round tower and added the outer stone wall.

This picture shows Windsor Castle from the train station towering over the town of Windsor.

Once inside the castle, we received an audio tour guide.  Unfortunately, no photos are allowed inside! It started in by showing Queen Mary’s dollhouse.  It was a gift that was originally thought up by the Queen’s cousin, Princess Marie Louise as she knew that the queen was fond of collecting miniatures.  Construction was started in 1921.  It was finished in 1924 and ended up being a gift from the people and a historical document showing how the royal family lived during that period of time.  It is amazing!!!  Everything in the dollhouse is real, even the toilet paper!  Many people, of that era, who were artist contributed to the project with their art.  Well known writers wrote books to the 1:12 scale to be put in the library, bottles of wine were made to scale with real wine in them, the electricity and water worked in this dollhouse. All of the carpets, curtains and furnishings replicate those in Windsor Castle from that era. The  pieces of furniture were either made by the original company of the furniture in the castle or by specialist modelmakers.  They even had replicas of various crowns with real jewels!  I could have stood looking at this dollhouse all day, trying to absorb all that was inside of it!

Next was an exhibit of photographs of the Royal family to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee of 60 years as queen which was this year, 2012.  There were some wonderful photos of her in her royal and daily life with various members of the family.

The China room was another amazing exhibit.  It was only a small sample from the 45 different China patterns that is used at Windsor.  There were about 12 different patterns on display in a variety of colors and designs.

Then, it was onto the Royal apartments.  I can’t begin to describe all of these majestic rooms….the grand reception room, where the queen receives her guest was just incredible!!  Plus, we saw the dining room…minus the table.  That was a large room as well….and the art work by Ruben, Rembrandt, etc was all around.  As I said earlier, I didn’t have time to finish the tour so I plan to go back around Christmas to go through it at my pace and enjoy the Christmas decorations!

A huge regret is that I didn’t get to see in the inside of St George’s Chapel on the grounds.
Doesn’t it look amazing!!  It is the spiritual home of the Knights of the Garter. Which is the oldest (having been founded in 1348 by King Edward III) and most prestigious society of knights in the United Kingdom.

From Windsor, we drove for about an hour and a half to Stonehenge.  Along the way, our guide gave us the history and his thoughts on the purpose of Stonehenge.  That is the all encompassing question concerning this UNESCO World Heritage Site, isn’t it?  Why was Stonehenge built?

I didn’t realize it, but there is more to Stonehenge than just the rocks.  There are Periglacial (geological) stripes that run parallel to the Stonehenge site and align in places on the solicits axis.  It is possible that these lines were visible to the prehistoric people and lead them to believe that this area was sacred.  It is believed that the earliest human activity was during the Mesolithic period (8500-7000 BC).  In the 1960s and again in the 1980s, excavation in this area revealed four or five pits that held large pine post.  However, it isn’t known if these were erected to resemble the Stonehenge monument today.

Further excavations have revealed that during the Neolithic era, the site was a monument center before Stonehenge was built.  There are two cursus or long rectangular areas known as the larger and smaller and are surrounded by a ditch. It is speculated that these might have been used as sporting arenas since they are about 1.8 miles long.  Other thoughts that it might have been a processional way, possibly for burials.

South of the cursus, everything built consisted of wood.  There were 3 henges (circles) found made of wood.  Over 3,000 houses were constructed but never lived in, also made of wood. This area is considered the “living area” for wood to the Neolithic people represented life or our bodies.  We are born, we grown and then we die…just like a tree.  North of the cursus, was all stone, mostly graves.  Stone represented death.  There is nothing living concerning rocks and once we decay, we are like stones, never changing.

The graves (barrows) of royalty had the leader buried in the fetal position surrounded by items he would need in his next life….weapons, food, drinking cups, etc.  The common people were buried in a common grave, which consisted of a central isle and chambers off from this.  In the various chambers, were body parts of thousands of people…for example, in one chamber would be all the right arms, in another, all the left arms and so on.

One thing for certain, this was a popular area for people from the Neolithic times through to the Bronze age (4000 BC – 2500 BC).  The original Stonehenge consisted of wood and was constructed during the years 2700-2500 BC.  The stone construction started after the year 2500 BC with Bluestone that is found in Pembrokeshire in the south of Wales.  There is speculation that the stones were transported by rafts along the coast and up the Avon River to and transported 2 miles to the site.  Others speculate that the stones were moved during the Ice age on a glacier.  However, since there are no other rocks from Wales in the area, this has theory has been ruled out.

The construction of the stone circle is incredible.  Not only did these people transport these large stones from Wales, but they created trilithons (two post supporting a third set horizontally on top) with them, even creating a ball and socket to lock the lintel or horizontal beam in place.  This picture shows an example of the ball on top of the stone post.

There are many speculations as to what Stonehenge represents….is it a spiritual place to bury the dead? Does it have to do with astronomy?  Was it a calendar?  No one really knows but thinking about the construction and all that it entailed with these huge rocks weighing close to 5 tons each is a remarkable feat.  Especially, when you put it into the perspective that they didn’t have the tools or the equipment that we have today to construct such a structure as Stonehenge.

After we left Stonehenge, we drove through some beautiful English countryside on our way to Lacock, where we were scheduled to have a late lunch….it was nearly 2:30 when we arrived.  Lacock is a wonderful, quaint village and the whole town is on the National Historical register.  We had lunch at an old pub, The George Inn, that had been there since the 1600.  The room we ate in was once an undertaker’s business and there were hooks on the ceiling where they used to hang the coffins!  Another claim to fame for the George Inn is it has the only working dog wheel.  The dog wheel was a device used to turn the turnspit when it had meat cooking on it in front to the fireplace.  In my opinion, it was a cruel device.  They put the small dog inside of this wheel and to ensure that it would stay running, they would put a couple of pieces of hot coal in it as well.

After lunch we walked around with our guide and he shared a little about the construction of tudor style houses.  How the plaster was made from horse hair, horse or cow dung and lime, mixed together an applied between the timber frame.  There was an example of this construction at a small bed and breakfast, At the Sign of the Angel, which is also rumored to be the place that Camilla and Charles would have their trist back in the day.  Lacock is also where Camilla is from.

Another claim to fame for this charming village is it is the town that was used during the filming of Harry Potter.  Our guide pointed out different buildings that were used during the movie.

Our final stop of the day was in Bath, about an hour away from Lacock and only about 30 miles from the border of Wales.  We could actually see the mountain range for the border when we drove out of town.

Bath is a lovely city. It is where the Romans would go for “R & R” when they ruled Britain starting in the 60-70 AD.  They built primitive baths with oak piles driven in the mud for a foundation and lined the spring chamber with lead.  Over the next 300 years, the baths were built up to be enclosed and have different pools for hot, warm and cold baths.  Also, the Bath Abbey is a majestic building in the town square.

Another landmark in Bath is the Pulteney Bridge that is constructed over the River Avon.  It is only one of four bridges in the world that has shops on both sides of it and when you see it, it reminds you of the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.

We only had an hour in Bath to walk around and absorb the architect and beautiful walkway along the river before we had to leave.  Our bus left at 5:30 and we were back in London by 8:30…we had a short walk from where we were dropped off but when we got off the bus, we encountered our first heavy rain since we have been here.  Of course, my Gortex jacket was back at the apartment!

It was a lovely day, with lots of new information.  I hope that all I have shared with you is historically correct. I have tried to check everything before writing it. If I have made a mistake anywhere, my apologies.  So, with that said, I will close for now….I have spent the whole day writing this and need a break!  Oh yes, one more interesting fact, you can travel to 99% of English towns by water, there is such a great canal system that was built for irrigation by the Romans and later used for industrial transportation!!!

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