Travel Journal March 9, 1999
A day trip to Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bath. Later that evening, a travesty.


I took a Golden Tours #8 to to Stonehenge, Salisbury and Bath. Although I really didn't want to get on "the tourist track", I felt that my self-exploration was missing a lot of details. Also, this was the most convenient way to get to sites outside of the city.

One the way out, the guide expounded the life stories of a number of English historical celebrities (Oliver Cromwell, Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, Elizabeth I, etc.) It's interesting that so many of England's celebrated historical figures were real bastards (and I don't mean in the patralineal sense.) These people have statues in front of Parliament house, not because they were particular good or noble people, but because they were "winners". I don't see too many statues of Adoph Hitler in Germany these days. Yet in front of Parliament there's a statue of Oliver Cromwell, who's "final solution" to the problem of Irish Catholicism was not all that dissimilar to Adoph's. Although I did notice that there's an electric fence around the statue, although whether that is there to protect the statue or member's of Parliament is not something I can determine.

The trip to Stonehenge was about two hours, although our guide's narration make it seem shorter. We caught a glimpse of Windsor castle in the distance on the way.

Stonehenge kind of comes upon you by surprise. One moment you're speeding through the rolling English countryside, and you crest a hill, and...there it is. Five thousand years old.

Most of these pictures don't have captions. They don't need them.

The pasture next to Stonehenge had a flock of sheep grazing away.


Next, we got on the bus and made our way to Salisbury. We stopped and had lunch at a pub called the Cloister. Apparently some parts of the pub are quite old. The food was decent.

The streets of Salisbury.

One of the entrances through the wall surrounding the Cathedral.

A couple of shots of the spire.

There was a local college band engaged in a practice rehearsal in the center of the cathedral while we were there. They sounded very good.

Notice the lack of stained glass in the windows. Most of the stained glass in England was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, who thought it smacked of popery and pagan idolatry. (Jerk!) Most of the churches have been slowly replacing their stained glass over the last few centuries.

Unfortunately, because of the recital, the far east end of the church (beind the altar) was blocked off. I kind of wanted to see this - according to the guide, these windows have been done recently, in a contemporary style, commemorating prisoners of conscience. There is even an Amnesty International symbol in one corner.

More random architecture bits. These are for a future project.

The cloister area.



On the bus again, headed towards Bath. Bath is a city founded by the Romans, because of (surprise!) the hot springs there. The entire city is constructed of an ochre-colored stone, called "bath-stone" which is quarried locally. It's really quite striking.

Bath Abbey

There was a busker playing the pennywhistle outside of the Abbey. However, he didn't even know "O'Donnell Abu" (which is like the second song in my pennywhistle book), so I didn't tip him.

The entrance to the bath-houses. These structures were built in Victorian times.

The baths. Note that the real color is actually a much more verdant green; For some reason it appears washed-out in the photograph. (Or maybe it's just the laptop screen.)

Note that there are actually several discrete "layers" here. The lowest layer, up to about three feet above the waterline, is Roman. Above that is a Victorian layer. There are also some tidbits of Medieval and contemporary origin.

Don't be fooled - these statues are Victorian.

Roman hypocaust.

This pool lies above the actual hotsprings outwelling.

More random architecture bits.

Another hypocaust.

The next series is a whole bunch of shots of the city of Bath.


I got back to London shortly after 7 pm. I wanted to "go out" for the evening, so I looked in the little coupon book that was given to me by the lady in the travel information office at the tube station. I decided to go to something called "The Medieval Banquet", at a place called the Beefeater - a "four-course dinner", with "performances by actors in period costume." With the coupon, I paid £37.50.

This turned out to be a mistake. More than a mistake - a complete fiasco. This was the worst piece of entertainment I have seen in many, many years, if ever.

The first inklings of what was in store became apparent when I looked closely at the chainmail that was being worn by one of the actors, and noticed that it was woven in the Japanese style. Now, this wasn't so bad - who among the clientele of the establishment would recognize such a detail? It was a minor point, and I decided to "suspend disbelief". I also decided to ignore the fact that the entire suit of mail seemed to be woven entirely from jeweler's jump rings, and must have cost about five times what you could buy one for at Renaissance Faire. (In fact, none of the costumes would have passed costume check at the Faire.)

Unfortunately, things steadily went downhill from there. I got seated by the surly-faced waiter about half-way to the back. I didn't have a terribly good view of the actors, but this turned out to be fortunate. There was an American couple sitting across from me, and I introduced myself to them.

While the dancing wenches were certainly enthusiastic, the scripting of this travesty would insult the intelligence of a regular viewer of the Jerry Springer show. The show was lead by a prancing, shouting moron dressed as Henry VIII, wearing a headset mike, who then proceeded to introduce Arthur and Merlin (played, unfortunately, by some of the same actors). Arthur then broke out into a rendition of the theme song from the play "Camelot". Soon after, while Rex Harrison was rapidly spinning in his grave, Merlin started singing a some forgettable song about adventure and magic. All I remember is that it sounded more like "easy listening" than anything medieval.

At about this point, they served the first "course" of this so-called four-course meal. I almost burst out lauging at the complete and utter chutzpah of these people. This first course was supposedly a paté of some sort; What it looked like was nothing so much as a single 3/8" slice of spam on a plate, with lots of cheap bread to fill up the guests.

About fifteen minutes of torture later, the second course arrived, which was a couple of dollops of potato soup, with lots more cheap bread. Meanwhile, the idiot dressed as Henry was belting out "What do you do with a drunken sailor", and exhorting everyone to sing along. I just couldn't take it any more. I said to the couple across from me "It was nice meeting you; I hope you have a wonderful evening." and I walked out.

I got on the train to go back to my room. A pair of fellows sat down across from me, engaged in a lively conversation. I could tell by the subject matter and by their particular speech mannerisms that they were in the acting profession.

"Hey," I said. "you fellows are actors, right?"

"That's right." one of them said.

I then proceeded to tell them about the experience I had just had.

"I'll tell you what happened, mate." one of them said. "You were bloody well ripped off."

"What did you possibly expect?", said the other one. "I mean what could possibly have led you to believe that it would be in any way entertaining? You just wasted 40 pounds which would have been far better spent at a theatre."

"Well," I said. "I was looking at this coupon book, you see..."

"Let me see that." the first one interrupted. They then proceeded, with much ceremony and debate, to rip out every coupon not meeting their particular discerning standards of taste. Needless to say, I found this far more entertaining than the show that I had just left. "Thanks, gentlemen." I said. "As individuals of obvious taste and sophistication, I will heed your advice well." At that point, their station came up and they had to get off the train.

I went to bed feeling smugly superior and happy.