The inner, smaller man-sized rocks used in the construction of Stonehenge, called 'bluestones' have recently had some light shed on them by the discovery of a mass grave for 7 people. This 2300-year-old grave, only 5-km from Stonehenge was found near Boscombe Down in 2003 during construction activity associated with road works. The grave contained the skeletal remains of an older man (35-45 years) with a previously broken leg, two young men (25-30), a teenage lad (15-18) and three young children (2-7).
A new scientific technique which analyzes the chemical composition of tooth enamel provides information on where the person spent their early formative years, since the enamel retains certain chemicals as it forms in children. It can determine how far the person was from the ocean, at what height above sea level and even some climatic clues to the place of habitation. Based on this, it was determined that these people originated from the Presili Hills of southwest Wales. This area 160-km (100-miles) away is where the bluestones are known to have come from. This marks the first time that human remains have been possibly directly linked with the building of Stonehenge.
The small bluestones pre-date the much larger outer circle by over 1000 years.
During our February, 2004 trip to England, we came across Lacock Abbey in the course of our travels through Wiltshire. The Abbey began its life in 1232 as a nunnary for Augustinian canonesses. Following the break-up of the power of the church by King Henry VIII, ownership of the Abbey passed to William Sharington, who began to transform it into a family home in 1539. This involved adding its octagonal tower, a courtyard and a brewery and also the destruction of the church portion of the original Abbey.
Over the course of its history, the Abbey has been altered a number of times, leading to four different building styles being used to make up its present form. Sharington had travelled abroad and he introduced Italian style architecture when he remodelled the estate in the mid-1500s. Since he died childless, ownership passed to his niece Mrs. John Talbot. In 1754, further renovations in the Gothic revival style were carried out. The estate also has a Botanic Garden and extensive grounds that are open for tours. The Abbey has also recently featured in the Harry Potter movie series!
Lacock Village is separated from the Abbey by a very pleasing landscape consisting of the Abbey grounds, the Botanic Garden and Orchards. The village itself is quite small, and consists of a large central 'square' with houses build along both sides of its four main streets (Church, East, High and West). This organized arrangement was no accident, since the village was specially built in the middle ages to accommodate the workers required at the Abbey. It also became wealthy during the wool-trading era up into the 1700's. After it declined in importance, its architecture was retained fixed in this time period by the Talbot family, who owned the village as part of their estate. This has made present day Lacock Village into a coveted site for period movies and TV productions, and it has featured in productions of 'Pride & Prejudice', 'Moll Flanders' and 'Emma'. This view was taken in front of The George Inn and looks down West Street from High Street.
Lacock Village is a very impressive mixture of houses and buildings dating from different eras spanning hundreds of years. It has a mixture of timber-framed houses with their protruding upper stories, as well as 17th century stone houses and later on brick Georgian-style buildings. Because of its important position on the stage coach routes linking Bristol to London, the village also boasts three interesting Inns (check my Restaurant tip for The George Inn). Being protected within the sphere of the Abbey estates, the Talbot family prevented railroads or any other manifestation of the Industrial Revolution from reaching the village - leaving it as a time capsule of an English village from hundreds of years ago. This photo shows a close-up view of some of the half-timbered houses in the Village.
After our morning walk at Lacock Village, we realized that we were not very far from Stonehenge, so we headed south east, arriving at about 11 AM on a 7 degree C and windy morning. This 7000-year old World Heritage Site is a 'Must See' if ever there was one - with the stone monoliths themselves dating from about 2500 BC. The larger upright stones are called the Sarsen stones and were brought from the Marlborough Downs about 19 miles away. There is a free-parking zone nearby, from where you can purchase your entrance tickets for 5 pounds (US$ 8) each. A tunnel takes you under the A344 highway before you emerge at the circle of stones. A single strand fence keeps all visitors a goodly distance away from the stones but allows you to walk completely around the site (free audio headphones are also available giving a running commentary on the important features as you complete the walk).
This photo gives a better impression of what you will see with the naked eye on most of the walk around the circular stones. In addition to the impressive stones, which were arranged in a particular pattern to tie in with phases of the sun, there are also circular ditches and banks (and burial mounds) surrounding the site that are even older than the stone monument itself - hence the fence to keep visitors at bay! Even on this blustery morning in February, there were a fair number of other people touring the site, but it certainly was not crowded!
I seem to recall that our first visit to Stonehenge, in May 1981, was a less formal affair. I don't recall paying to view the site but, as you can see in the photo, the strand to keep visitors back a certain distance was there even then! On this occasion, we were living in Papua New Guinea and this was one stop on our 9-week Around-the-World trip that the company paid for part way through my contract (this was the Canada-England-Kenya part of the trip). The date of our visit also happened to be my youngest daughter's first birthday!
This view shows the small road that runs across the front of the estate, heading off across its extensive grounds toward the west. There is a long and narrow arched stone bridge (partially visible) over the River Avon, which we were very surprised to come across again since we had just been there much further north the day before - when we had been at Stratford-upon-Avon! It turns out that there are 3 or 4 River Avons in England, and this one is different from that of Shakespeare fame! We had a very nice early morning walk along here, meeting one of the estate staff returning from a walk in one of the huge fields with an Alsatian (German Shepard) in tow. In 1944, Lacock Abbey, its grounds and associated Village were donated to the National Trust of England by the descendents of Talbot family who had assumed ownership in 1553. Various parts of the estate are open to visitors between April and November, so we had it mostly to ourselves in February!
The White Horse is carved on a chalk hillside easily seen on the A4 road if you are driving toward Avebury, if you are driving in the opposite direction you will not be able to see it unless you look back.
This huge chalk-cut horse figure is one of the eight which are still visible of the total of thirteen white horses known to have existed in Wiltshire, the other five horses have either been lost completely or been buried by the vegetation.
The horse is believed to be only three hundred years old.
Avebury village is famous for its Stone Circle. Monumental rocks form a wide circle around the village. Sheeps grazing around the stones and fellow travellers are the only signs of life in the village.
The stones are believed to have been built around 2500 BC. You can find more information about the history of the village at the Alexander Keiller Museum.
There is a convenient car park for both coaches and cars (although I parked in the village during my short visit) situated at the south of the village.
If you are driving on the A4 between Marlborough and Bath you can not miss Silbury Hill. It is located eight kilometres west of Marlborough.
Silbury Hill is one of the several interesting prehistoric sites of the region. This peculiar conical hill has a maximum height of forty metres. It was built around 2600 BC probably as a burial place.
You can only view this prehistoric site from the car park or the road but access is forbidden and the whole hill is fenced.
The picturesque village of Lacock is one of the highlights of any visit to the Wilthsire county. It is located at the southern edge of the Costwolds at about seventeen kilometres from Bath.
This photogenic village is owned by the National Trust, which has done a great job to keep it as it was a hundred years ago. It is very popular with tourist specially at weekends and the summer months.
Lacock Abbey was founded in 1232 as an Augustinian nunnery. Parts of the nunnery, including the cloisters, chapter house and sacristy, were preserved when the building was converted into a private residence in 1550.
Next to the Abbey there is a barn, which is now the Fox Talbot Museum. The barn displays the life of Willian Henry Fox Talbot (1800-1877) who was the first individual to create a photographic negative.
Salisbury is famous for its Gothic cathedral, the tallest in England. It was built in a record time of thirty eight years between 1220 and 1258.
Around the cathedral is the Close, an impressive precinct of lawns and Georgian houses surrounded by a medieval wall, which has three gates: North Gate, St Ann’s Gate and HarnhamGate.
Market square, St. Thomas Church and St Edmund’s Art Centre are all located within walking distance of the Cathedral.
Bradford-on-Avon town is situated east of Bath and divided by the river Avon.
This charming town is full of Georgian houses, one of the most attractive ones is the Bridge Tea Rooms (next to the medieval bridge) where you can have a nice tea and cakes.
St.Laurence Church is a Saxon church built about 700 AD.
The local museum (free entry), located at the upper floor of the local library, is worth a visit, there is a restored old pharmacy, some old photographs and relics.
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