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!)