Winchester and Salisbury
Now where was I last? My last message was on Thursday morning, from Southampton University. After sending that, I caught the bus into the Old City and spent the day exploring the medieval city walls and an assortment of museums and old houses. This would probably only have taken half a day, but it was overcast and windy and rather cold, so I kept ducking into pubs for the warmth -- this has also resulted in a lot of postcards being written. Went back to Neil's place (his household is short a resident, so I had a room to myself and a bed instead of the sofa I'd expected) and we ate pizza after a quick drink in the local pub.
On Friday I walked across Southampton common (a lovely place, with paths through open space between dense areas of trees and bushes, birds singing, and a wonderful atmosphere -- much nicer than any Sydney parks, though Sydney does have Royal and Kuringai Chase National Parks, the like of which you won't find anywhere in Britain) and caught the bus to Winchester. This didn't take the direct route (just 12 miles up the highway), but rather wound through all sorts of little villages, taking about an hour. A rather nice way of seeing the countryside, though not the same as walking through it. (I had already abandoned my plans to walk the 40km from Winchester to Salisbury, because of some blisters on my feet and a general shortage of time -- not till after I'd spent lots of money on maps, unfortunately, but I left them with Neil.)
I knew I was going to like Winchester when I got of the bus and immediately stumbled over a secondhand bookshop... Unfortunately the Youth Hostel didn't open till 5pm, so I had to carry my full pack around all day. First stop was the cathedral, which blew my mind completely -- I think I spent two hours exploring the inside and half an hour walking around it admiring it from different directions. I then walked 2miles down the Itchen to St Cross, a church and almshouse. This was well worth seeing, but the walk was really pleasant in itself, the track running between the river itself and a canal about a metre higher, with ducks (and a few swans) everywhere and green meadows on either side. (The weather was lovely and sunny, just perfect for walking.)
Twenty minutes drinking hot chocolate before the youth hostel opened. This is in an old mill building, and the common room is actually the old mill room and is directly over the mill-race. There's also a lovely garden which is effectively an island in the middle of the Itchen, only accessible from the mill/Youth Hostel. One of you will see it on a postcard. Fish and chips for dinner.
A good nights sleep (only one other person in the dorm) was followed by breakfast, where I chatted with a couple from Western Australia (a retired parish priest and his wife). Then, as on a few other occasions, I wished I wasn't travelling alone. (I'm staying in Green college tonight, and the only room free is a double at 25 pounds for the night; that sort of thing is also annoying for the single traveller.) Then I spent the morning exploring more of Winchester -- museums, old buildings, and more bookshops -- before catching the bus to Salisbury (another windy route through little villages).
Arriving in Salisbury about noon, I immediately checked into a B&B and dropped my pack off. I then turned my back on the cathedral spire, choosing to walk instead to Old Sarum, 2miles to the north. This was a Roman/Saxon fort and the original site of the town and cathedral. The huge earthwork ramparts are still there, but only ruins of the castle and cathedral are left. The English Heritage was staging a mock siege there -- several hundred people in period costume made for a rather impressive battle scene. With a strong wind blowing (one of the reasons given for moving the cathedral) it was freezing cold, and I resorted to 4 layers of clothing for the first time. [ I've been wearing slacks, t-shirt, shirt, and jumper mostly, taking the jumper off for some of the walking and putting my rainjacket on in the wind. My shorts haven't had any use at all yet. Most people wear more clothing than me -- typically a jacket or coat -- except for the occasional woman wearing a tank top -- with arms and midriff bare! -- or a short skirt/dress -- with bare legs! Isn't human epigamic display amazing? ] The route back (it's a circular walk) passed by a lovely little norman church. [ England is, of course, full of lovely little parish churches. It's rather nice to stumble over them, however. ] I had a short look at the cathedral by twilight.
On Sunday I discovered that my planning had been bad. A couple of the museums I'd wanted to visit were shut, while I entered the cathedral just at the start of a service. So after a quick look around the cathedral I decided to catch the bus to Wilton (where there's a "stately home"). Misreading the bus timetable screwed that up, but I stumbled over a town St George procession (complete with 2-lane wide inflatable dragon!) and after watching that I walked to and old (1135!) mill-house on the Nadder -- once again a lovely walk through meadows, with views of the cathedral all the way. I had lunch in the pub that occupies the old mill-house, then decided to follow a walking track up the Nadder. Finding myself half way to Wilton when I reached the highway, I walked the rest of the way.
Wilton house (entry fee 6.50 pounds!!) is a rather grand house full of artworks including lots of stolen Roman statuary. (I say "stolen" because it doesn't seem right that it should all be in private hands; or maybe that was just my disgust at the cost of entry :-) Apparently the estate still encompasses 24 000 acres (about 60 sq km), mostly let to tenant farmers, so this is definitely and old fashioned aristocratic estate (a short propaganda film about the Earls of Pembroke -- who still own the place -- reinforced this impression).
I caught the bus back to Salisbury and had a proper look at the cathedral. Externally Salisbury cathedral is the most stunning building I've seen yet -- the spire is exquisite and the proportions of the building seem right (Winchester cathedral is a little too long, perhaps). Inside one can see from one end to the other, and it has a more open feel than Winchester. There's also a lovely Chapter House which houses a copy of the Magna Carta. [ Cathedrals aside, I prefer Winchester over Salisbury because it has a much higher density of bookshops. ] Then I picked up my pack from the B&B and raced off to the railway station, where I just caught the 4.50 train to London. [ Which took over 2 hours due to delays and a change of trains. It was also really expensive -- at 20 pounds it was about 4 times the cost of an equivalent train trip around Sydney, say Central to Katoomba. Eating out is also much more expensive, so I've given up doing pound to dollar conversions and am just reading the prices as if they were in Australian dollars! ]
Having got safely back to Highgate (where I'm staying with old friends of the family), I spent just one night there and have just come to Oxford with Val (who commutes there); I'm typing this in the Imperial Centre for Cancer Epidemiology, which she heads. When I've sent this off I'm going to walk into the centre of the town and explore; as I mentioned above I'm staying in Green College tonight (expensive, but how can I pass up a chance to stay in an Oxford college?).