Those of you paying attention may have noticed that the site was spammed in the last couple of days and I've only just cleaned it up. This delay is due to the fact that Monica and I have been away for a couple of days.
We went to stay in a place near Hereford. The hotel was the Pengethley Manor hotel near Ross-On-Wye
It's a nice place, set in the countryside. Admittedly the weather was a bit miserable at times, but we were lucky in that it cleared for us when it mattered.
We arrived at the hotel on Thursday, and ate there. The bar was quite cosy, we started with the wine produced on site (the hotel has a vineyard), and it was very good indeed. The food was excellent (though a bit on the dear side). I had Mussels in a White Wine sauce, and Monica has a Sea Bass. Beautifully prepared, well served.
The next morning we had a large breakfast - the plan is not to have to eat during the day. The cooked breakfast was reasonable, but not great - should've stuck with the porridge with whisky!
Eventually we set out, and aimed for Hereford. Parking was pretty easy, we parked near the cathedral, just over the river (near a leisure centre). The river stunk a bit - country smells. Probably water washed off farmland.
Inside the Cathedral they have the 'Mappa Mundi'. This is a large map which was drawn on Vellum. It's a good four or five feet across. It is meant to show the a religious representation of the known world, so Jerusalem is near the centre of the map. The map has east at the top, and though many features are present, there is quite a lack of geographical accuracy. I would have expected shapes to be wrong, but some quite large topographical details were wrong, for example, Spain was seperated from France by the Meditteranean, and there was a river dividing England from Scotland. I can appreciate the difficulties of producing a world map at this time, and mistakes are bound to be made - but these are rather fundamental!
This is a section of the Mappa Mundi which shows the UK, Ireland, and parts of Northern Europe. East is at the top of the map.
There was a jobsworth in the museum who did not allow photography, so I only have photos of modern facsimiles of the map (taken before he saw me). I don't understand the photography ban, I really don't. Flash photography, I understand - especially when you have light sensitive documents - but a ban on any photograph in areas where light sensitive things are not present, I don't understand.
The actual map is quite dark, and kept in a room of its own with a guide next to it the whole time who is able to talk about the map in great depth.
Passing through the room with the Mappa Mundi we came to a chained library. All very nice (though I have seen these quite often). What really impressed me was that in the room there was a copy of the Magna Carta. It was from the 1217 reissue by Henry III, and there are only 3 other copies, all held at Oxford.
What I found frankly amazing about this single sheet is that here we have one of the most important documents in English Legal History, and not only was there no indication it was there (all the signs pointing to the Cathedral reference the Mappa Mundi), but it was also misleadingly labelled in the case (there was a glossy manuscript book to its right, and the Magna Carta labels were near that).
Not once did we see a sign saying: 'Hereford Cathedral: Mappa Mundi (oh, and we've got the Magna Carta, too).
We then headed west to find something called 'Arthur's Stone'. This was an ancient tomb dating from 3700BC to 2700BC. The 'chambered tombs' were used to bury the neolithic dead. They were used over many generations. Arthur's stone was once covered by a mound of earth which has largely been eroded away over time. The stone roof of the tomb has collapsed. According to legend, the stone marks the sport of one of King Arthur's battles - however the stone has been at the site since long before the time that Arthur is supposed to have been around.
After visiting the stone we drove down through Monmouth to try and see some standing stones. Unfortunately the ones we picked seemed to be on private land, so we headed back to the hotel as it was getting on a bit.
In the evening, in the rain, we went for a meal in Ross-On-Wye. We parked outside the Wetherspoons pub and had a wander round in the pouring rain before deciding to go into the Wetherspoons for some food. It was quite a smokey pub and we felt uncomfortable, there were lots of unpleasant stares. We decided that we did not want to stay there and ended up down the road in the 'China Boy Jo' restaurant. This turned out to be an excellent choice. Downstairs they had a takeaway section, but we were ferried upstairs as soon as we opened the door. We found quite a nice area, and we were treated very well indeed. The food was excellent.
The next day we headed home, and we decided to visit some more ancient monuments on the way. We joined the M5, headed south, connected to the M4, and then left the M4 to go through Cherhill.
The Cherhill white horse, like many such monuments, doesn't really count as 'ancient'. It was cut by Dr. Alsop of Calne in 1780. Or rather, it was cut under his direction, he called instructions from the main road using a megaphone.
We soon found our way to Avebury, which is a World Heritage Site.
Outside Avebury is a large ancient Earthwork called Silbury Hill. It is 40metres high (130ft) and is the only surviving unaltered exampled of its type. Its original purpose is unknown.
The village of Avebury is actually build inside a giant stone circle. What idiot decided to build the first house in the circle, I don't know. However, that is what we've got now. One can walk around it quite easily (though in some places it can be a bit steep).
Avebury is a very impressive site, though it would be more impressive if someone a few hundred years ago had decided to put the village next to the circle.
From Avebury, we did consider going to see some more white horses, but we decided to get down to Stonehenge before the light failed us.
Stonehenge is a 5000 year old monument on Salisbury plain, the only one of its kind in the world. At the moment it is on the fork of two roads, within a decade this situation will change as they plan to put the main road into a tunnel to cut the traffic noise, and to move the visitor centre two miles away.
The henge is truly impressive, as a feat of engineering if nothing else. The place was fairly busy, as might be expected, but I still was able to get quite a large number of reasonably people free photos.
If you visit stonehenge then I recommend that you use the free audio guide, even though the last bit of that annoyed me greatly. (It is not forever a mystery why one type of rock feels warmer than another, it is to do with differing thermal conductivity. Carpet feels warmer than tiled floor for the same reason.)