Saturday, June 6, 2009

Edward Rutherford - I came, I saw, I felt it too

My all time favourite book is an epic called Sarum written by Edward Rutherfurd. It tells the story of the development of the Salisbury Plain from pre-history through the journey at the end of the last Ice Age by Hwll and his woman Akun and their family. It then traces their descendants and the peoples that they meet with and interact right through to the modern day. It is a huge book - in paperback about 1340 pages and much of it focuses on the building of two of the great monuments on this plain - Stonehenge (and the wood henge) and Salisbury Cathedral - firstly as part of the settlement of Old Sarum and then dismantled, reconstructed and enlarged in New Sarum (today's Salisbury). So with this knowledge, you can maybe imagine how excited I am to be here surrounded by the story and the history here!

This morning I spent some time doing some consolidation of our photos onto DVDs so that I can delete them from the laptop. However, I am still not confident enough in technology to be happy with only one copy on the portable hard drive! I will post the DVDs home when I have completed them all (there will be about 30 DVDs by the time I have completed the pics taken to date)! In the end, it took until midday.

So we set out to explore this story. Being a weekend and nice weather, we know that Stonehenge will be very busy so we head over to Old Sarum - the site of the birth of Salisbury. The habitation of the site dates back about 3000 years, but the greatest time was during the rule of William the Conqueror. The settlement was a sizable town recorded in the Domesday Book. Today, the ruined remains of a magnificent castle, manor house and other buildings can be seen within the outline of a defensive wall while the layout of the first cathedral is visible outside these walls.

It is hard to adequately describe just what I feel as I walk the paths that countless thousands over thousands of years before me have done. Suffice to say, with the words of Mr Rutherfurd in mind, I can 'hear' and 'see' the characters and their kinsfolk come to life. And even Michael, who has not yet read Sarum feels it too. Missing the story, and despite being the current owner of 3 copies (and having 'passed' at least 2 other copies away!!), we buy another copy LOL with Michael showing a renewed interest in reading it - but he will have to get to it before me, cos I intend to start again tonight!!!!

We spend almost four hours escaping into the past before we are ready to head off. But the Romany in the fields below whose forebears probably lived just as they do are not yet ready to depart! And as Michael watches a Mooney (plane) land, swooping across the field of view dashes a Peregrine Falcon. And down in the fields, families picnic with the ghosts of the past.

Next stop is the Stratford
Sub-castle just down the road. Once a settlement in its own right it measured only 1 square acre. It is now a part of Salisbury city and this large manor house and its farm are the only evidence of anything here in times long gone. From here, we travel down leafy back roads through some of the prettiest country along the Avon River. Through tiny hamlets with names like Lower Woodford, Middle Woodford and Upper Woodford complete with rows of thatched houses, beautiful gardens filled with fragrant roses and delphiniums and celebrity homeowners - however, Sting wasn't home when we knocked on his door! We asked someone how often they need to replace the thatching on the rooves and the answer is about once in every 25 years - golly, it almost lasts as long as an iron roof in Qld!

Now, there was a purpose to my circuitous route. I wanted to be able to see and show Michael Stonehenge from the 'other' approach - that is, the way opposite to what we would normally arrive at it. This way, you come over a hill and the Henge rises up to meet you from the valley floor. Michael had cottoned on to where we were headed, and I think his anticipation was growing as he was fidgeting in the seat beside me!

And we are not disappointed, not one little bit. Michael, by this time, is making some form of low guttural moan from his seat as the dribble runs down the window. There is half of England filing past, so we opt to view from the car and come back later this week when it is quieter. And all around us throughout the landscape are burial mounds that date back to the time of the Henge and earlier!

Michael's anticipation is now brewing like a pressure cooker and I can see we will spend many hours there!!!! Mind you, you can only file past from a distance. None of this getting up close and personal here (unlike Avebury). The actual famous Henge is much smaller than I anticipate, but the site with a surrounding henge of smaller stones was once huge. Anyway, more on this later in the week.

At the same time that Stonehenge was being constructed, a Wood henge was also erected a small way away. We search it out and although there are none of the wooden logs in place any longer, the holes have been filled with concrete stumps to illustrate the positions of the former. Kind of sad really, because the timber posts erected at Newgrange in Ireland showed much more clearly just how impressive these timber henges were in their day. Still, this one must have been something really special - there were circles inside circles. And it appears that on all the evidence that there is to date, that all these great monuments were linked in some way or purpose.

By now we are feeling quite drained so we head back to Salisbury and the Milford Hall Hotel. We book a late dinner as there is a large group due in at 7:30 pm (it is now 7 pm) and we head down just after 9 pm. The wait staff are looking tired so we hurry to make our choices guided by Simon. Michael chooses the Salt Crusted whole Sea Bass and I have the Lemon Sole grilled with fresh lemon and butter.

We argue over whose fish is better and will agree to disagree - we both seem to want to claim the winner. Both were superbly cooked and presented and absolutely delicious. (Mine wins out for a photo though, seeing that I am doing the blog!) Michael's dessert of White and Dark chocolate marbled cheesecake looked lovely and my Tiramisu was to die for - even though I could not finish it all!

Wow, what a day. We head off to bed with our heads full of stories and pictures we will never forget.

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