Friday, August 14 Devizes
Awoke to a very wet morning with monochromatic sky and continuous rain. Very glad we had decided to take a rest day. Ed spent 2+ hours cleaning the bikes while Maggie worked on the Blog. Those completed, we had a light lunch and walked around the soggy Devizes. It is a very old market village with many crooked and sagging facades to homes and shops.
It has at least 2 picturesque churches, neither of which were open.
We took afternoon “tea” (actually cappuccino) and scones at the Tea Shop in the center of town. Walked around some more and photographed some old and interesting buildings.
Saturday, August 15 Devizes-Amesbury
An easy 21 mile ride from Devizes to Amesbury ,which is just a few miles from Stonehenge. On the way we rode through a few very small villages that were not on the main road and not on the bike route. These villages are not on anyone’s radar or in any guidebooks. They contain many half-timbered homes and thatched roof buildings. Most are in villages that have no stores.
At one home, where men were re-thatching the roof, we had a conversation with one of the men on the scaffolding. He turned out to be the owner who was interested in our travels.
His wife joined us for a few minutes after he invited us into the house to see the interior. A portion of it was built in the 15th century. It had the slight smell of smoke from the fireplaces that heat the house and some very old, dark timbers supporting the ceilings. It most probably started as a one room home. Over the years it had been added to, most recently by the current owner who added a garage and bedroom on top. The bedroom connected to the old house through the wall which was 3 feet thick. The old thatched roof lasted about 50 years. Re-thatching required almost 3 months to complete and was very expensive.
We also stopped at Woodhenge which is just outside Amesbury which is 6 miles from Stonehenge. Woodhenge is a very large, very old, pre-historic site that was constructed about the same time as Stonehenge.
There is nothing left of the original 6 concentric circles consisting of wood poles planted vertically. Since there is nothing of the wood left, there are short concrete markers in their place. Those circles are surrounded by a very large moat and earthen berm. Once again, there is only theory with little fact to support those theories built these and for what purpose.
From there we rode into Amesbury, had lunch, checked into our hotel and then walked around the village. We got a brief tour of the local church with a small portion surviving from 979 AD
and then the local historical museum. There is mounting evidence that human beings occupied the area 8000 years ago, more then 5 millennia before Stonehenge was erected. The recent discoveries are quite significant and include pottery, flint worked into tools, bone and arrow and spear heads.
Sunday, August 16 Amesbury-Stonehenge-Salisbury
Pedaled the 6 miles to Stonehenge from our hotel and arrived before the hoard of people and tour buses. There are very few trees in the plains surrounding these sites. Stonehenge’s setting makes it stand out among them all.
The stones are huge, perhaps 12-15 feet visible and another 5-10 feet that are buried under the ground for stability. When Ed visited Stonehenge in 1971 there were no restrictions in place to protect the site. You could walk up to and around the stones. Now, because of the need to preserve the site and the over 1 million visitors it has a year, the site is cordoned off with knee high ropes that are anywhere from 20 to 50 feet away from the stones.
Very little is known about the constructing of the various sites. In addition to the stones, artifacts have been discovered that help in dating the site, but very little which illuminates why the sites were built, exactly by whom and how they were done. There seems to be consensus that they are related to the spring and winter solstice and the seasons for planting, but …. The notion that they were constructed by the Druids has been dis-proven based on carbon dating of some of the artifacts.
Suffice it to say that Stonehenge is a spectacular sight rising from the plain and visible for a long way . It is photogenic from all angles and a mystery that is not likely to be solved. This is a must see on a trip to England and leaves one in awe. The accompanying visitor center is mediocre offering little insight and much guess work. It does have and explain some of the artifacts, but that does not make it an enlightening experience.
Although there were hoards of people visiting the site by the time we left, the site handles the large number of people well. That cannot be said for the main road coming into the site. The line of cars had to be about half a mile long at about noon. We were fortunate that the gal at the hotel told us of another way to get there that had less traffic.
From Stonehenge we rode back to Amesbury, retrieved our panniers and had a wonderful ride to Salisbury following bike route #45 along mostly gentle terrain. The 25 miles was dotted with many half-timbered/very old houses with thatched roofs.
The villages that we have ridden through don’t make any of the tour books and many do not even make the maps, but they punctuate the landscape with history and stories.
We first saw the Salsbury Cathedral steeple from about 5 moles away. We arrived in Salisbury around 4 p.m. and walked around the old town and the cathedral close (grounds.)
We saw many, many old buildings that were listing to one side or the other and many that appeared to be off kilter.
It was a beautiful evening with the best sunset we have had in the British Isles.
The cathedral at sunset was also magnificent,
Monday August 17
It was a beautiful, sunny day in Salisbury! At the tourist office we picked up the Sustrans bike map we needed for the next phase of the tour and signed up for the 11:30 walking tour of the city center. We visited St. Thomas church while waiting for the tour.
They have uncovered wonderful paintings on the walls during one of the many restorations. Our walking tour was quite good and ended at the Cathedral Close. The next adventure was to see inside the cathedral and take the guided tour up to the top of the bell tower. It lasted for more that 2 hours and we climbed 300 plus steps.
Loads of history about the building of the cathedral and what a view of the town and surrounding area.
Salisbury is really beautiful with 5 rivers that come together in the old town near the close with walking paths all along these many rivers. We left Salisbury on the 4:20 p.m. train for Westbury.