Nov 11, 2005

Day 5 : Land of Austen and Shakespeare

It was a cold morning. I watched the BBC breakfast show for a while not wanting to get out of the cozy bed. Got out finally, had breakfast and became ready to tackle the next day. The hotel, Landsdown manor in the morning light looked beautiful. I walked the long corridor past a ‘Beau Nash’ suite towards the back door to get to the car. This Beau Nash character was appearing again, I made a mental note to look him up.

It would have been such a shame to miss Stonehenge after going that close. Besides it was quite early for the attractions in Bath to open, so we decided to drive back.

And the scenery I missed the previous dark evening unfolded before me. The sloping hills with velvety grass, sheeps grazing leisurely and horse farms, went past in a pastoral haze. The drive had seemed much longer the previous evening, no doubt due to my heightened state of anxiety. I kept looking for the iron age limestone horse or some such, but couldnt spot it. AS claimed she did but I refused to believe her. For a monument as famous as Stonehenge I noticed a remarkable lack of sign posts along the way. It was almost like they didnt expect anyone to drive to Stonehenge and the sign that we finally saw was like an afterthought.

There is a row of tall, stout pillars in my home town. About half a dozen of them that were used for tying up elephants, long ago. If you hunt for them in a street with cluttered houses and two storeyed buildings with their haphazard electric lines and billboards, you migh be able to see it. I got reminded of the contrast when I saw Stonehenge.

By some conspiracy of nature, the land around is slopy enough that you dont spot it till you are within a couple of miles. And by human design there arent any major buildings nearby, just grassy, slanting land and single lane roads, giving it the best, majestic, brooding setting ever possible in the world. A place like Stonehenge has to be approached with imagination. A wonder of how they must have brought these stones from afar and why, should fill your heart, otherwise you’d want to just drive on, cursing yourself for spending your hard earned money.

I shelled out aforementioned hard earned pounds to be able to walk around. The best, ‘most often seen in pictures’ view was from behind. And I got plenty of imagination. I strolled around, pondered about ancient forgotten cultures and the difficulties of transportation of stones from wales. The sky has always captured our imagination hasnt it? ‘Space - the final frontier!’ Fifteen minutes later with my contemplation done, I was ready to head back.

Listened to BBC on the way back, watching those sheeps. There were some bulky, black, shiny objects at a distance, amidst the sheep that I couldnt recognize. I wondered incongrously if it were a bunch of bullocks sitting down. SS thought this was hilarious.

The latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s persuasion has some fantastic shots of Bath. I had thought that there must be a few buildings like that still in the city. How mistaken I was! Only after reaching Bath in day light I realized all buildings were like that. Wherever I turned I could see stunning Georgian architecture, conserved with an unmistakable passion.

“Must be thrilling to walk where Jane Austen might have walked,” SR teased. We walked along the queens square, the circus and many other streets whose name I didn't care to notice. It felt like it could rain any minute. Christmas shopping seemed to have started, the streets were crowded. But for the clothes and the automobiles, if someone had said I was in the eighteenth century I’d have easily believed. It was one of the most pleasant strolls.

We arrived in the Roman bath and the pump room right when it started to drizzle, again another example of something preserved well. There is a neat gadget called an audio guide that they hand out. You press a number thats displayed on the area and you get a nice commentary. Technology rules. AS was completely enamoured by it and listened to it with utmost devotion. The elegant roman military leaders, governors and emperors lined the terrace, as they had done for decades, overlooking the main bath. Britains only natural hot spring looked green and warm. SS sketched the mosaics and the sun god diligently.

I came up to the Georgian pump room where they were dispensing water from the spring. I wondered if it cost similar in the times of Austen. “Its a dollar a glass,” an American exclaimed. “You drink,” he handed it to his lady friend. I was sipping the water at the same time as her. We both took a sip and looked at each other. We didnt need words to communicate our feelings that transcended geographical boundaries. Only difference was she tried desparately to find a place where she could spit it out, while I, made of sterner stuff, swallowed it.

Walked out to a slight drizzle, continued seeing more listed buildings. Ofcourse, I had to see the Jane Austen center. AS and SS werent too thrilled. I wandered off looking at this and that, it was depressing to read about the way she died, her last days of genteel poverty and her fight with the disease. Back in the gift shop, Colin Firth’s portrait getting sold as Mr.Darcy was thoroughly amusing and it helped restore my cheer.

After wandering about some more in the streets of Bath, we set off to Stratford upon Avon. Avon river flows through Bath too I noticed. I spread my map and traced the line fondly. This was a scenic route through the Cotswalds. We drove past, stopping wherever we pleased, taking in the beautiful hillsides with the famous sheeps, picture card cute villages with the honey colored houses and churches to my hearts content. This was the best part of driving. No slave to a public transport that’d stop only where the driver wanted. Bourton on the water, stow on wold, Moreton in marsh and finally stratford upon avon.

It was about to get dark when we approached Stratford and I was afraid of a repetition of the previous evening. Luckily as soon as we came near the town center, a neon light claiming vacancies in a bed and breakfast beckoned. Since we had spent the previous evening in a nice hotel, we decided to spend this one in a hopefully nice bed and breakfast. It was a home business obviously and the teenage daughter asked if I would be willing to pay ahead.

I trudged upstairs, licking my lips. The cold wind has scorched my lips and I realized I was going to have a terrible cold sore.

The room had a vaulted ceiling with two windows through which I saw some fire crackers. I dully wondered if it was Guy Fawkes day and then watched the clouds gather and rain pound on the windows. I went to sleep to the rhythm of the rain drops.

November 11, 2005