Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Day 6 – Stonehenge and Winchester

Saturday was a USM-sponsored expedition that we signed up for and paid in advance and all ten of my group dragged ourselves out of bed for a 6:30 am departure. Some of us were a bit grumpy that the bus didn’t come until after 7:15 and it then took several hours to get there. I sat with Channin on the bus and learned about her work with middle schoolers. When we got to Stonehenge, it wasn’t even open yet (the concept of standing stones being “open” seems odd but it’s an English Heritage site with guards and surge pricing for tickets). 
I believe the tickets were about £23 and it was good we got there early to avoid the crowds. Joe, a college friend from Kirkland House, had told me I would be disappointed that I couldn’t get close to the stones but I didn’t want to hug them, just admire them! I had chatted via laptop with Joe the previous day – although I had hoped to see him in London, he is living in Italy for 45 days to qualify for dual citizenship through an Italian grandfather. He did offer his daughter to show me Oxford but there is no time on next week’s trip, plus she probably has better things to do!
There were lots of pictures and Outlander jokes but I was happy just to walk in a circle and admire the stones. It was a beautiful sunny day although extremely windy. When it was time to leave, I was walking along and someone noticed my black Harvard fleece with a small logo on it and asked if I went to Harvard. I said I had attended but not recently and she said her brother had gone there. “I probably don’t know him,” I said smiling, “When did he graduate?” She said he was on the football team. “Maybe I do know him!” I told her, explaining I had been the manager of the team, and her brother turned out to be my friend Brian Hehir, with whom I serve on a board.  What are the odds of that happening? A picture of Bernadette and me was taken by her husband for posterity and Brian’s benefit and we chatted for a few minutes before I had to dash.
I had been excited about visiting Winchester Cathedral since reading A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier (which I recommended for the British Studies reading list) and it was truly beautiful, not only worth the trip but merits a longer visit. Winchester had been a large town under the Romans but came to prominence when one of our favorites, Alfred the Great was king. Alfred chose Winchester as his capital and as the Saxon kingdoms merged to form England, it remained the nation’s seat of power until after William the Conqueror. We were extremely hungry so wasted precious time eating lunch. I lost my friends at the historic gate of the city but as they were not planning to visit the cathedral I headed down myself. The town was full of interesting shops and a market was set up on the High Street (I was intrigued by a silver toast rack and had to walk by, reminding myself firmly that I don’t even like toast!).
Embroidered cushions as in A Single Thread
There has been a Cathedral in Winchester since about 648 AD. The foundations of the current Cathedral were laid out in 1079 by the first Norman Bishop, replacing an `Old Minster.´  The new cathedral was the longest then in existence at 535 ft in length, although it is shorter now because its towers were removed about 1350 due to marshy grounds that cause flooding and instability. On our otherwise outstanding tour, there was so much discussion about the swamp under the cathedral and how it is sinking that I began to keep an eye on the ceiling in case it started shedding like the Boston Harbor Tunnel!  The cathedral had witnessed the burial of William Rufus (1100), the coronation of Richard I (1194), the marriage of Henry IV (1401), and the marriage of Queen Mary (1554).  One of the most interesting parts of the tour was the guide pointing out the contrasts between the less refined Norman workmanship and the new Gothic architectural style.
I paid my respects to Jane Austen, who is buried here, and to Henry Beaufort, son of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford (see Anya Seton's book, Katherine). I had to leave before the tour was over to catch the bus back to London. I got hideously lost but luckily found Alesha, also searching for the bus, and kind Abbey sent one of the coaches to find us. I rallied when we got back and we had dinner at The Real Greek on Paddington Street, which had delicious food and friendly service.
Miles walked: 5.2 (most in my search for the bus!)
Cathedrals: 1


Cath said...

Our youngest daughter graduated from Winchester Cathedral, the event was held there I mean, she went to Winchester uni to do performing arts. It's a stunning place and we grew to love Winchester while she was there. We want to have a holiday in the area again at some stage, this year hopefully, as I'd like to visit Jane Austen's house at Alton and Gilbert White's house at Selborne. Also eyeing up Kent as we've never been over there and I'd like to visit Churchill's home and also Kipling's. Nice to be able make plans again.

Sue in Suffolk said...

Snap with Cath above! Our son had his Graduation ceremony (from King Alfreds College which has since changed it's name) in Winchester Cathedral too! I would love to go back and see it empty of students and because of reading The Single Thread!. Eldest Daughter was also at Uni in Winchester at the School of Art but she her graduation was in the Guildhall. We travelled up and down to that beautiful city several times over the years.
The first time I went to Stonehenge it was actually possible to park nearby and walk right up to them - that was about 55 years ago!
I'm so enjoying your visits to everywhere!

CLM said...

Thank you both for reading! What a wonderful place for a graduation Winchester Cathedral would be and how nice that it is used, as so many see it who might not otherwise! Sue, my mother and I have a favorite book about Alfred the Great (about his stepmother, really) so we would have really enjoyed having a family member at a college named for him. I knew the Winchester School itself was there and saw signs for Winchester University but didn't know what it offered.

I benefitted from an excellent tour guide and it pained me to leave before she was done. I needed much more time to enjoy the cathedral and of course saw nothing of the rest of the town (I gave myself five minutes in the Oxfam bookshop but one really needs a bit more time before books start whispering, "Take me home . . ." I told my professor (several times - she may be getting tired of me) that we didn't like rushing back to London so quickly and asked her to make sure we have more time in Oxford but she had already bought the coach tickets.

Lex @ Lexlingua said...

I remember being "just a little" disappointed that the Stonehenge was spread out over a rather small area (it looked much bigger / spread out in the pictures!). But it was lovely, and the greens all around... Sigh. I know I spent hours there!

LyzzyBee said...

How funny to run into a connection at Stonehenge! And I've never been even though I've lived in the UK all my life, though I have gone past it a number of times, read books about it, etc., etc! I'm so enjoying reading about your travels, even though I am lagging behind.

JaneGS said...

What a great post about a great day! I would love to see Stonehenge, and would get up very early to not have to see them amidst a horde of people.

And then Winchester! I loved A Single Thread, and of course the Austen grave, and I hadn't realized that John Beaufort is also buried there. I absolutely loved Katherine and want to reread it.

And then the Harvard connection is the icing on top.

Even the lost bus (it was lost, not you, right?) adds to the richness of the day and its story.