Friday, June 5, 2009

Cheddar, cheese, and churches

Another glorious day has shown its smiling face. We are greeted by Greg with a melodious 'Good morning', then he promptly vanishes into the kitchen to prepare our breakfast. Following the same menu (yes, creatures of habit) as yesterday we break our fast with orange juice and Alpin muesli, then Greg serves us our second course.

As we enjoy our repast, we chat with Greg whom we discover is a poet and creator of many a short story. We idle the morning while Greg reads us some of his poetry and avails his folder for us to peruse. His writings are both very funny and poignant while illustrating those souls who have passed through the Orangery as well as his various life experiences. Breakfast and interlude over we gather our belongings and bid our host(s) farewell.

The car packed, we drive through Bath towards two points of interests: The Royal Crescent and the Circle (this was for Maria's benefit). Mind you, our satellite savvy saviour, Kate, computes our direction as though we were in search of the Minator in the labyrinth! We taken through a circuitous route before arriving at the Royal Crescent.

Now, the Royal Crescent is indeed a residential road of thirty houses designed and built by John Wood the Younger between 1767-1774. Initially these dwellings were occupied by wealthy owners who separated
their holdings from common folk by a sprawling semi-circular and elevated lawn. Times haven't changed as the lawn still exists with the masonry retaining wall, and secured at intervals along the length of the wall are signs alerting passers-by the lawn is for the benefit of the bonafide residents within.

This nonsense aside, the architecture can still stop people during their promenade. I'm certain it was initially designed to intimidate, however it still remains among one of the greatest examples of Georgian architecture. To add a touch of trivia, John Wood the Younger had an interest in the occult and Masonic symbolism. Hence, it has been suggested the Crescent and Circus were designed to respresent the sun and moon; when viewed from the air the buildings appear as the 'Soleil-Lune' (Sun-Moon) a masonic symbol....

Leaving the Crescent we make our way toward the Circus. Originally called the 'The King's Circus' and completed in 1768, it was designed John Wood the Elder. However, Mr Wood Snr would not live to see his design come to fruition as he died three months after the first stone was laid in 1754. As you can guess, the structure was completed by Johnny II who did not swerve from his father's original design.

Like the Crescent, the Circus is also an impressive piece of construction which was made available to the wealthy. It was orignally called 'The King's Circus', as the buildings were of a grand design and form a circle which face a circular village green. Another bit of trivia, the word 'circus' was applied as it is a stem from Latin which means ring, oval or circle. Albeit, the Circus is regarded as the John Woods's' architectural masterpiece - you have to see it to fully appreciate it.

Time is passing us by so we head for Salisbury, via the Cheddar (yes, as in the cheese....) Gorge and Caves and the town of Wells. Oh, as we drive out of Bath through its streets boasting its array of architecture, we spy another sort of an array ahead. Well, yes, it is a head...and attached to a body of a lad walking ahead of us...towards wherever - but he is sporting the most amazing splay of hair. Directly from behind the fellow appears hairless - except when he turns his head and your hit by his cranial rainbow! I'm quite envious as I AM hairless!

As Bath recedes behind us...we're on the road again. It's moments like these, I wish I had a rendition of Nelson Riddles' classic theme music which he wrote for the 60's television program: 'Route 66' which featured George Maharis and Martin Milner. However, the green hills, valleys and fens roll on by punctuated with bucolic scenes of cattle, sheep, hamlets and an abundance of 'Red Lion' pubs which must be the signature landmark throughout the south-west of England!

Just a minute, did I mention pubs...then what about cyclists? We're driving through countryside which provides inclines of 16-20% gradients, and there be cyclists. I have to take my hat off to these intrepid bikers who negotiate these roads with pure unadulterated courage and stamina! However, I suppose the one and most apparent omission which stands out to us, is that most cyclists don't wear helmets.... It has nothing to do with any law, or the lack thereof; it's the protection of one's scone. If you have ever driven upon rural English roads, you'll understand our dismay.

As we near the town of Cheddar, the landscape gradually changes from rolling hills to rocky outcrops capped by grassy knolls. These rocky outcrops eventually join into one deep and long gorge underlined with Black Rock Limestone, Burrington Oolite and Clifton Down Limestone. Hmm...and it is called the Cheddar Gorge and very picturesque and which is the home of the Cheddar Caves (a.k.a. the Gough and Gem Caves).

The two caves open to the public are the Gough and Cox, each named after their respective discoverers. The Gough Cave which is the larger of the caves provides the visitor with an amazing excursion through Mother Nature's magic. At the entrance to this cave is a plaque which states an affiliation and sistership with the Jenolan Caves, NSW, Australia. In comparison, the Cheddar Caves may not be as grand nor anywhere near the size of Jenolan's smallest cave, yet there lay a magic which can propel any visitor into a magical land. And half way through the cave we find - what else, but cheddar cheese wheels aging in the controlled climate!

After the Gough Cave we decide to have lunch at the small cafe located near the caves entrance. Lunch was very good value and wholesome:
Pieminister (award winning locally made in Bristol) Moo Pie (Beef and Ale in a cheddar cheese crust) with a rich gravy, mashed potato, and minted mushy peas. (Maria)
Ploughman's Lunch comprising of three wedges of Blue Castello, White Castello, Aged Tasty Cheddar, home made pickled onions, tomato and sweet relishes, and salad - accompanied with two chunks of crusty bread. (Michael)

When we had finished lunch, Maria returned to the car whilst I proceeded make the climb up 274 stairs leading to the viewing tower and then onto the Cox 'Gem' Cave. Small as this cave may be, it has its gems in small pools of water with glasslike stillness, which reflect the surfaces above. Further into this cave, many of the small grottos are used to promote a particular theme from fantasy; and at the moment it appears "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" have centre stage! A great experience for children.

Our excursion into the Cheddar Gorge over we set forth for the town of Wells. Wells is renowned for its Cathedral and Bishop's Palace. The town derived its name from (....yes, you guessed it!) possessing three wells dedicated to St Andrew; one located in the town market place and the remaining two located in the grounds of the Bishop's Palace. These wells were renowned for having curative powers during the Middle Ages.

Without dwelling too long on our assessment of the Cathedral, I'll just say that it was breathtaking as were the Undercroft and the Chapter House. Due to the lateness in the day, access into the Bishop's Palace was not possible - however, this edifice has its own moat, draw bridge and Baillie. I wonder who were being protected or excluded?

We say farewell to...ah, Wells, and set off for Salisbury. After a slow journey, we finally arrived at our destination: Milford Hall Hotel. We have managed to get a package booking for £90 per night dinner bed and breakfast - for the two of us! The receptionist explains that we have a £25 per preson allowance towards food in the restaurant for dinner. Add to this the breakfast cost and the room is almost free!

As it has been a long day, we opt for an early dinner and book in for 7 pm. Their Salisbury Seafood and Steakhouse has a lovely decor and silver service by young freindly staff under the careful management of Simon who really knows his stuff. Nice little touches include not having to ask for water, the appetisers of olives, oil and vinegar and bread, a showing of the meat on offer and chocolate buttons with great coffee. There is a 3 course set menu and an a-la-carte option - which we opt for tonight. Following careful consideration (and a closed eyes eenie meenie minie mo) we chose:
14oz T-Bone Steak with fresh rosemary & sun blushed tomato marinade served with hand cut chips and fresh vegetables (broccoli, parsnips, beans) Michael
Wild Boar Steak with Honey, Mustard & Apricot Glaze with those chips and veges - Maria. I had never tried boar before and found it absolutely delicious!
Raspberry Sorbet (Michael)
Home Made Pannacotta of the Day - Lemon and Rosemary (Maria)

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