Our last day tour excursion took us out of London and on our way to Windsor to see the castle and home of the Queen. We left quite early in the day so that we could get there before the castle opened, putting us nearly first in line and giving us a rather quiet place to walk around.
As with England’s castles, Windsor was built after the Norman invasion by William the Conquerer. Since Henry I it has been used by the reigning monarch and is the longest-occupied palace in Europe. The 13 acres of castle grounds include areas such as the Upper, Middle and Lower Wards, the Round Tower, the State and Private Apartments, and several other towers.
Inside the castle walls is also St. George’s Chapel, a Royal Peculiar (subject to direct jurisdiction of the monarch, as opposed to the church) and the chapel of The Order of the Garter, an order of chivalry founded by Edward III in 1348. Membership is limited to the Sovereign, Prince of Wales, and no more than 24 companions with new appointments being announced on St. George’s Day, as Saint George is the patron saint of the order. The chapel is the site of many royal burials including Edward IV, coffins of two up identified children suggested to be the Princes in the Tower, Henry VIII and his wife Jane Seymour, Charles I, William IV, and Princess Margaret and The Queen Mother, Elizabeth, just to name a few.
After our time at Windsor, the next stop was a drive to Somerset to visit the city of Bath. Known for its Roman-built baths and spas, River Avon, and the golden-coloured stone used to build the city, with many buildings dating back to the 18th and 19th century. In 1987 Bath became a World-Heritage Site.
Along with the hot springs, Pulteney Bridge, Circus, Royal Crescent, and Pump Room, stands Bath Abbey. At the front of the Abbey there are carvings of angels climbing ladders as it was believed that this was the spot where heaven met earth and makes direct reference to the dream that the prophet Jacob mentioned in the bible, commonly called Jacobs Ladder.
Next on the tour was a drive to a small village known as Lacock, with only 4 roads and an unspoiled appearance, most of the surviving houses are 18th century or earlier. There is also a 14th century barn, a medieval church, and the inn we ate lunch at dates from the 15th century.
Lacock has provided filming locations to BBC productions such as Pride and Prejudice, Downton Abbey, and two of the Harry Potter films. The village is also known for and has a museum dedicated to Henry Fox Talbot, the pioneer of photography.
The last stop on the tour was non-other than Stonehenge, a pretty unreal experience to see a prehistoric monument in person. We lucked out with our guide as it turns out that she has a masters in archaeology and had a wealth of information about the site to dish out on our way there.
While it’s impossible to know facts about the people who created this massive area, a lot of recent discoveries have helped to formulate better assumptions over the years. We know that the stones are arranged to align with the sunset of the winter solstice and the sunrise of the summer solstice and we know that the rocks were rearranged very early on which match the 4 degree change of the world axis that happens every 50 years or so. Some of the most amazing discoveries include uncovering remains of a man who was analyzed to have been from the lands where Switzerland now resides and who had a missing knee cap and access on his teeth. This has led to the information that the site of Stonehenge was known from all over – in a Bronze Age where there was no form of far-distance communication. It also adds to those scientists who believe that the temple/monument was meant as a site of healing.
Within a 2-mile radius of Stonehenge are over 300 barrows, burial mounds that contain the remains of many people. Scientists have noted that a similar monument close by was made of wood, as were homes, whereas stone was used for Stonehenge and the burial mazes and chambers. This has led to an idea that wood signified life and stone signified death, falling in line with the fact that cremated remains have been found however no evidence of cremation happening on-site has been discovered – meaning that already cremated remains had been brought to the site from other places.