Next few days we rest, watch the rugby and walk in Holland Park.
Tuesday 22 September
Take the train to Shepherds Bush and to Holburn for a couple of hours in the British Museum.
Start in Rooms 6 to 10, subject Assyria. Assyria was a major ancient empire which existed as an independent state for almost 2000 years up to 605 BC. It was centered on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia (now northern Iraq, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey). At its peak, the Assyrian empire stretched from Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea to Persia (Iran), and from what is now Armenia to the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt. Weakened by civil war its downfall was brought about by an alliance of Medes, Persians, Chaldeans, Babylonians, Scythians and Cimmerians.
There are large stone sculptures and rooms full of reliefs that were a feature of the palaces and temples of ancient Assyria. An entrance to one of the royal palaces was flanked by two colossal winged human-headed lions. The reliefs or stone panels depict the king and his subjects engaged in a variety of activities. He is shown leading military campaigns against his enemies and in hunting and killing lions, a royal sport in ancient Mesopotamia. There is incredible detail in the reliefs that among other things provide an insight into ancient quarrying and transport techniques. The siege of Lachish, mentioned in the bible, which was one of the chief cities of the kingdom of Judah is also portrayed in a series of reliefs. The siege followed the refusal of Lachish to pay tribute to the Assyrian Empire.
We also review the ancient Greek era including Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations and the large collection of ancient pottery and artifacts, some of which date back more than 5000 years. The pottery is amazing and many of the vases are beautifully decorated.
The Nereid Monument, a sculptured tomb from Xanthos in South West Turkey has been partially re-created. This was a Greek temple on top of a base decorated with sculpted friezes, and is thought to have been built in the early fourth century BCE as a tomb for a ruler of Lycia.
We see the marble sculptures (also known as the Elgin Marbles) that Lord Elgin removed from the Parthenon in Athens. The Museum seems to maintain that whether their removal was legal or not, for sure he saved them from vandalism, pollution, further deterioration and possible destruction.
The famous Rosetta stone is also on display. This chunk of stone provided scholars with the code or means by which they could interpret ancient Egyptian text. It features a decree issued by a king of Egypt in 196 BC that appears in three scripts; Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. Because it presents essentially the same text in all three scripts, it provided the key to the modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphs.
Monday 28 September
Over the past week take it easy, watching rugby, going to the park, bit of work, visit the Guildhall City of London business library to research company failure at this end of the world and visit St Paul’s Cathedral. The entry fee to the latter was STG 18 each about A$75 for the two of us. Just too steep and quite unconscionable to be charged for entry to a church and in principle we decline. Still we managed to get some impressions of this magnificent structure and time for meditation etc in the chapel on one side of the cathedral.
St Paul’s is the Anglican cathedral in London dating from the late 17th century. It was built after the great fire of London in 1666. Its dedication to Paul the Apostle dates back to the original church on this site, founded in AD 604.The present church was designed in the English Baroque style by Sir Christopher Wren. Its dome is among the highest in the world and it is the second largest church building in area in the UK (after Liverpool Cathedral).
Sunday 4 October
Not much to say about the last week. We have spent more time at the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum and Holland Park. The museums are incredibly well-presented and have massive collections of artifacts and art and statues etc. They are informative, educational and fascinating. England lose to the Aussies and are out of the rugby world cup still in the pool stage which will take some of the lustre off the competition from the local perspective anyway. As the rugby dwindles a bit this next week we will see some of the other London sights.
Monday 5 October
Today we visit the Tower of London, founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest of England. A yeoman of the guards or Beefeater gives us a 25 minute presentation. The White Tower or central keep of the complex was built in 1078 by William the Conqueror. Encircling it to the north, east, and west is the inner ward, built during the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189–1199) and then there is the outer ward which encompasses the castle and was built under Edward I.
The Tower has served variously as an armoury, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England. The castle was used as a prison from 1100 until 1952 and was a resented symbol of oppression by the ruling elite. For much of its history only upper class and royal prisoners were incarcerated there, some of them subsequently beheaded and buried in the chapel. Notable prisoners included Ann Boleyn, Lady Jane Grey, Guy Fawkes and Sir Walter Raleigh, all of whom were executed in one way or another. Fawkes was to be hung drawn and quartered but when about to be hung he apparently climbed too high up the ladder, slipped and fell because he was weak from torture and hanged himself immediately. He thus escaped the agonies of being drawn and quartered.
Thursday 8 October
Bit of a late start for Greenwich via Central line to Bank and the new DLR line to Cutty Sark station.
The Cutty Sark is the ship built in 1869 as a tea clipper for speed. We decide to see it and the Greenwich Royal Observatory. Both are part of the World Heritage site which also includes the Royal Navy College and the National Maritime Museum.
The Cutty Sark was one of the last tea clippers to be built and one of the fastest, coming at the end of a long period of design development which halted shortly after she was built as sailing ships gave way to steam propulsion. The opening of the Suez Canal also meant that steam ships could take a much shorter route to China. So many of the clippers that specialized in getting the new seasons tea to London in record time (thereby getting much better prices for it) were diverted to the wool trade in Australia.
The huge masts on the restored boat carried acres of sale and this boat must have been one fantastic sight when going full throttle. Very interesting presentation of the features of the craft and its history and restoration.
We walk through Greenwich Park and up the hill to the Royal Observatory. This is where the astronomical work, particularly of the scientist Robert Hooke, and John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, permitted the accurate measurement of the earth’s movement.
By 1700 skilled seamen could find their position latitude wise but still lacked accurate instruments or methods to calculate their east-west position. With growing international trade, the lives and valuable cargoes lost in shipwrecks made solving this problem of longitude urgent. The king at the time (Charles II) charged Flamsteed to “apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.”
The two British solutions to the longitude problem were firstly to map measurements of the night sky and the other to develop a portable clock that would keep accurate time on board ships. Quite fascinating the displays of beautiful old clocks developed by John Harrison who eventually gained recognition for having solved the longitude problem and won a prize for a timepiece called H4.
The Observatory at zero degrees longitude is now the base-line for the world’s time zone system and for the measurement of longitude around the globe and by virtue of its elevation it provides great views of many of London’s landmarks.
Friday 9 October
Visit Westminster Abbey today, a mainly Gothic abbey church. Originally a church was founded on the site in the 7th century but construction of the present church began in 1245. The work continued between 1245 and 1517 and was largely finished in the reign of Richard II. Although called Westminster Abbey, since 1560 the building has not been an abbey nor a cathedral, having instead the status of a “Royal Peculiar”—a church responsible directly to the sovereign.
Since 1066, when William the Conqueror was crowned, the coronations of English and British monarchs have been held here and there have been at least 16 royal weddings. Oliver Cromwell was given an elaborate funeral here in 1658, only to be disinterred in January 1661 and posthumously hanged from a gibbet. The evolutionist Charles Darwin is buried here in a place of worship, the Church of England, of all places. I ask one the churchmen about Darwin, he says there was a great deal of controversy about it at the time. There are kings and queens and poets (Poets’ Corner) and many other famous people (Isaac Newton, Geoffrey Chaucer) buried here. King Edward’s Chair, the throne on which English and British sovereigns have been seated at the moment of coronation, is housed within the abbey and has been used at every coronation since 1308.
Every year Westminster Abbey welcomes over one million visitors who want to explore its history and the 700-year-old building itself. It is self-described as a must-see living pageant of British history. We agree.
Monday 12 October
Our tour of South West and South East England did not get off to a good start. Unknown to us our credit card was suspended due to a fraudulent transaction of about $500 through the card incurred at a service station in Palm Beach in the US. Trying to get a car out at Europcar was the first we knew of it. After a lot of stuffing around we had the restriction on the card lifted temporarily and eventually got away at about 12:30pm. Then our GPS would not pick up the satellite and we struggled to determine why. Was it the car’s latent system interfering or did our unit need to be re-set. We fixed both at the same time and eventually got away. Traffic out of London very slow so we had to give some visits for the day a miss.
First stop is Canterbury to see the walls, the cathedral, Christ Church University and the town itself.
The Canterbury city walls are a sequence of defensive walls built around the city by the Romans, probably between 270 and 280 AD. These original walls were constructed from stone on top of an earth bank, and protected by a ditch and wall towers. After the Romans left the city declined but the walls remained, and may have influenced the decision of Augustine to settle in the city at the end of the 6th century. The Anglo-Saxons retained the defensive walls, building chapels over most of the gates and using them to defend Canterbury against Viking incursions. Later, much later towards the end of the 14th century the walls were extensively re-built to defend against expected French attacks.
The Cathedral is one of the oldest and most famous Christian structures in England and forms part of a World Heritage Site. Founded in 597, the cathedral was completely rebuilt from 1070 to 1077. The east end was greatly enlarged at the beginning of the twelfth century, and largely rebuilt in the Gothic style following a fire in 1174. The cathedral became a major focus of pilgrimage following the 1170 martyrdom of Thomas Becket.
We are late by the time we get to the white cliffs of Dover but we stroll along to the upper and lower and viewing areas for some photos. Not much can be seen, viewing would be better from the giant ferries that are leaving from the port of Dover below us.
We drive on through Falkstone to Rye where we stop for the night.
Cancelled our credit card and will be issued with a new card before we leave London.
Tuesday 13 October
This morning reported the bad transaction on our credit card after a lot of false starts in talking to Westpac in Sydney. Surely they could deal with this sort of problem with a bit more finesse. We had to go through the same story and prove our credentials to three different people, make that four after a call dropped out.
Take a look around Rye first thing. A good view of the surrounding countryside from the Ypres Tower which was built in 1249. Henry III gave permission for the castle to be built as part of the defence against the frequent raids by the French. At the time, the coast was under constant threat from the French, who were warring with England.
We drive through Hastings and Lewes stopping at Brighton for a leisurely stroll along Brighton Pier. The sun is shining but to us it is bitterly cold. The occasional tough Pom is in shirt sleeves but most folk are rugged up. The pier has history. It was opened in May 1899 after costing a record £27,000 to build. The structure, supports a domed amusement arcade and several fairground rides, including thrill rides, children’s rides and roller coasters. On this Tuesday nothing much is happening, it’s too cold. The West Pier opened in 1866 and closed in 1975. It has become increasingly derelict since closure. The skeleton is still prominent.
We stop at the Royal Pavilion for photos but I don’t go in because we can’t find parking handy. This is a former royal residence built from 1787, as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, who became the Prince Regent in 1811. With its domes and minarets it is built in the Indo-Saracenic style prevalent in India for most of the 19th century. Next door is the Brighton Dome, an arts venue, connected by underground tunnel to the Pavilion.
Through Chichester to the next stop at Portsmouth being the historic harbour where we visit the boathouses and see the HMS Victory and HMS Warrior. The former is the 104-gun ship of the Royal Navy, launched in 1765. She is best known as Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and is now the world’s oldest naval ship still in commission. Not sure what commission means because it does not appear that the ship still goes anywhere.
Also here is the Mary Rose, a carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy of King Henry VIII. After serving for 33 years in several wars against France, Scotland, and Brittany and after being substantially rebuilt in 1536, she saw her last action on 19 July 1545. While leading the attack on the galleys of a French invasion fleet, she sank in the Solent, the straits north of the Isle of Wight. The wreck of the Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1971 and salvaged in 1982.
Wednesday 14 October
I have neglected to mention that one of the primary purposes of this trip is to see the south of England countryside. It is hard to generalize about the landscape of the areas we have covered so far and today, but we both just love it. In particular, the patchwork of fields with hedges, the dales and the vistas from the hills and the winding (and often quite narrow) country roads, the little towns and the farmsteads. The autumn is upon us and many of the hedgerows and woodland areas are turning gold and red. Can’t beat the English countryside, unless perhaps you are touring in New Zealand.
Before we leave Winchester today we take photos of the Winchester Cathedral but do not go in. This is one of the largest cathedrals in England, with the longest nave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. While a cathedral was founded here in 642, the present building was consecrated in 1093. A substantial amount of the fabric survives today.
Today our main cathedral stop is the Salisbury Cathedral which was completed at Old Sarum in 1092 under the first Bishop of Salisbury. The Domesday Book is thought to have been presented to William the Conqueror at Old Sarum a few years earlier, in 1086. Disputes with the military and scarce water supplies led to an alternative cathedral location being sought and in 1220 a new site for the Cathedral was consecrated at New Sarum. The main body of the cathedral was completed in only 38 years, from 1220 to 1258.
The cathedral is notable for having the tallest church spire in the UK, the largest cloister and the largest cathedral close in Britain. It contains the world’s oldest working clock (from AD 1386) and has the best surviving of the four original copies of Magna Carta. In 2008, the cathedral celebrated the 750th anniversary of its consecration and this year marked the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215.
We stop at Stonehenge for at least a couple of hours. This was a place of burial from its beginning to about 2000 B.C. It is one of the most famous archaelogical sites in the world, Today it contains a ring of standing stones set within earthworks in the middle of a dense complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments including several hundred burial mounds. Archaeologists believe it was constructed from 3000 BC to 2000 BC. The surrounding circular earth bank and ditch, which constitute the earliest phase of the monument, have been dated to about 3100 BC.
Stonehenge and its surroundings were added to the UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 1986 in a co-listing with Avebury Henge. We are bussed to the site from a complex about a kilometer away. The day is bitterly cold (at least for me feeling a bit fluey anyway) so we don’t loiter long at the site itself. There are thatched huts showing at least how these prehistoric people sheltered and inside the complex a museum and displays films etc. The huge stone slabs are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice. But the folk who created it left no written records so the astronomical significance of the site for its people, are a matter of speculation. And plenty of debate over hundreds of years.
Thursday 15 October
Today is another countryside day. We start by taking a look at the Glastonbury Abbey from afar. The entrance fees are just too expensive and we like others on the spot decide against it.
The abbey is just over the wall from where we stay the night in a beautiful B&B and our hosts give us a bit of background at breakfast. The abbey was founded in the 7th century and enlarged in the 10th, before a major fire in 1184 destroyed the buildings. It was rebuilt and by the 14th century was one of the richest and most powerful monasteries in England. The last abbot, Richard Whiting was hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor on Glastonbury Tor in 1539.
The Tor is our next stop. We have walked ourselves out over the past few days and so take the car up a very narrow road towards the top where we stop for pics. The hill is topped by the roofless St Michael’s Tower. Several buildings were constructed on the summit during the Saxon and early medieval periods; they have been interpreted as an early church and monks’ hermitage. The original wooden church was destroyed by an earthquake in 1275, and the stone Church of St Michael built on the site in the 14th century. Its tower remains, although it has been restored and partially rebuilt several times. It stands our very prominently on this grassy hill.
We travel via secondary roads through the beautiful countryside to Wells then on to Bath. Bath is well-known for the curative Roman-built baths that still exist there. If we had more time we would have taken a hot dip because the day is cold. Bath became popular as a spa town during the Georgian era, leaving a heritage of Georgian architecture. We stop for photos of the Royal Crescent, essentially a row of 30 terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent and thought to be among the greatest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom.
From Bath we take winding roads through the countryside to Castle Combe, Tetbury and Bibury stopping for occasional photos before reaching our pit stop Bourton-on-the-Water. This wonderful rural landscape has stone-built villages, historical towns and stately homes and gardens. Most of the homes, walls and fences are built from the distinctive golden coloured Cotswold stone, some of them with thatched roofs. A really beautiful area.
At Bourton-on-the-Water we stop for the night. Springs about 10 miles away produce the clean water that flow through the centre of this attractive little town. Frequent stone low arched walking bridges cross the stream. We walk the length of the town stopping briefly at the church. The town has a population of about 3300 but often has more visitors than residents during peak times of the tourist season, not hard to figure why. There is evidence of human activity (Neolithic pottery) dated back to about 4000 B.C. and ancient Roman pottery and coins discovered in the village itself give clear evidence of extended Roman occupation.
Friday 16 October
We continue north through the Cotswolds to Chipping Camden where we stop for a walk along the main street and for photos. The town is notable for its elegant terraced High Street, dating from the 14th century to the 17th century. “Chipping” is derived from an Old English word meaning ‘market’.
At Stratford-upon-Avon we stop briefly. The town is a popular tourist destination owing to its status as birthplace of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare, and receives an estimated 4.9 million visitors a year. Exactly why so many people would be attracted to a fairly ordinary looking town merely because someone, however famous, was born there 450 years ago, is a stretch for me. I suppose we should be paying a tribute to the great man by visiting the actual place where he lived but we don’t join the crowds.
Next stop is Warwick for photos of the castle, established in 1068 as part of the Norman conquest of England.
We head south to Oxford which revolves around its prestigious university, established in the 12th century. While having no known date of foundation, there is evidence of teaching as far back as 1096, making it the oldest university in the English-speaking world and the world’s second-oldest surviving university. We take photos from the outside and talk about the Rhodes scholarship which is granted to applicants in mainly Commonwealth countries (plus the US) who demonstrate not only scholastic excellence but also an interest in sports and people and who are civic minded. Cecil Rhodes was a businessman, a mining magnate and I think also a politician in South Africa towards the end of the 19th century. Rhodesia now Zimbabwe was named after him.
At Windsor we stop for photos of the castle, notable for its long association with the English and later British royal family and also for its architecture. The original castle was built in the 11th century after the Norman invasion by William the Conqueror. It survived a fire in 1992 and is still apparently the preferred weekend home of Elizabeth II.
LONDON & HOME
Our travelling ends back “home” in London where we are booked back in at 83 Holland Road. Like everywhere we have been, our trip around this part of England should have occupied at least double the time. No dramas in London except we struggle to get the GPS to search for and find a petrol station where we can top up the tank, before surrendering the car.
Monday 19 October
After a weekend watching RWC quarter finals and last minute visits to the Natural History Museum and the National Gallery, today we catch the 22:05pm Singapore Air flight to Singapore and Sydney, arriving home early Wednesday morning 22 October 2015. Two nights in the air take their toll, for the first time ever we both suffer from jet lag for several days.
Has been the trip of a lifetime. Educational, enjoyable, amazing and eye-opening for both of us. Taking a car and spending a couple of nights in a city meant every second day we travelled between cities and saw the sights/countryside, even if a bit tiring. Apartments where we could get them were the best for space and for cooking even given they often did not have a reception. The nuvi58 GPS was absolutely indispensable, despite not always being accurate and occasionally delivering fractionally late calls. My beloved had everything at her fingertips, unpacked and packed constantly without complaint, shopped expertly and always came up with delicious meals. Without her superb organization we would have had a lot more hiccups and our trip may have cost 50% more. Next time round we will spend more time in the UK and France. New territory to visit includes southern Spain, Portugal and southern Italy and perhaps if safe, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and other eastern European countries. Sweden, Switzerland and Austria deserve more time. May also consider a river cruise, but overall not be away quite so long.