Stonehenge and the Westbury White Horse

Although we have been in Bristol for 10 months now and Salisbury is only 32 miles down the road we hadn’t been too focused on going to Stonehenge. I guess we figured that a pile of stones in a field couldn’t be that exciting so we didn’t bother.

As we had a spare day at the end of our Scottish holiday and the weather was a bit on the dismal side we decided to do a roadtrip down there. After about an hours drive as we motored up the road we crested the hill to suddenly see the stones laid out before us literally in a paddock complete with sheep (although the sheep are well fenced off from the stones) as are the tourists that haven’t paid to get inside to see them up close. It was quite an amazing sight.

We paid our 6.20 each (a lot cheaper than I was expecting) picked up our audio guides and went through the tunnel that takes you under the road to Stonehenge. If you really don’t want to pay the entry fee you can see the stones through the hurricane fencing but I figure for 6 quid just pay it. As we were there quite early the number of tourist buses were minimal so I would advise an early start there.

I already knew that you couldn’t walk right up to the stones so was prepared to be seeing them from a distance, but actually I felt we got close enough to understand the size and weight of them. The audio guide was quite useful although I didn’t listen to it all. I was interested to learn though that the whole area used to be covered in forest and very unlike the wide open bare plains that make up the area now. Nearby to Stonehenge is a military base so while we were doing the touristy thing we could hear explosions coming from over the hill from what sounded like a cannon, probably tank fire as we saw a number of tank signs at a later point in the day. It was rather exciting to be in the area.

Moving on from Stonehenge we decided to search for the White Horse in Westbury. It is called the Westbury or Bratton Horse as it is located near Bratton Camp which was an Iron Age hilltop fort. I didn’t realise this but there are 7 white horses carved in the hillside around the Wiltshire county. They are carved into the chalky hills (hence why they are white) and were something of a tradition at one point. There has been a white horse on this site for the past 300 years with different renditions of it being made over this time. The current one was re-designed in 1873 with the original horse apparantly facing in the opposite direction. In the last 1950’s it was thought that concreting the horse and painting it white would be cheaper and easier to manage. It was re-concreted in 1995.


We had been looking forward to our Scotland adventure. We picked up the rental car Thursday night then got up early Good Friday to head North hoping to avoid any Easter holiday traffic. The only time we managed to get caught up was in Glasgow where I managed to take an unscheduled detour (in other words I didn’t listen to the GPS and sent us off down a merry path to mayhem!).

The roads are fantastic between England and Scotland, providing a smooth and easy drive. The countryside didn’t really change a lot in regards to scenary until we got to the lowlands outside of Glasgow. However we did get our first hint of a snowy weekend when we stopped to look at a church on the roadside. As we were looking around it started to hail/sleet/snow. One thing I have taken away from this trip is that snow falls in many forms and directions!

As we got into the lowlands and then the highlands the remoteness of the area is what inspired us most. It is obviously unlike Australia where you could drive for hours and see no one, however this did have the remoteness of the high hills and deep valleys even though there were other cars around. You could park on the side of the road and just walk off into the hills and be alone. We didn’t do this of course as being unprepared in this climate could well mean you don’t come out again. Unlike Australia I did felt comfortable with the remoteness here for some reason.

The first night we stayed in a little town on the edge of Loch Lomond. Tourism in Scotland truly does survive on B&B’s. We went to a medieval themed restaurant for dinner which was situated in an old church. With Clannad (OK so their Irish) playing in the background, iron cast chandaliers, antlers plastering the walls, chunky wooden tables and grand chairs you really could think for a moment you were in the past.

On Saturday we took off to Kinlochleven to get there in time for Steve’s ice climbing session. The climbing centre here was rather cool with bouldering areas, kids gym, rock and ice climbing and a cafe and bar to boot. You could spend all day here. We were staying at the pub across the road which was pretty good value being so centrally located. Steve enjoyed the ice climbing and managed to even create an injury to himself from falling ice that dislodged while he was climbing. I didn’t realise the face bled so much!

Sunday we looked for a church to attend but to no avail so we headed out for a tour of the area. We ended up driving through Fort William, up to Loch Ness then out to the Isle of Skye where we got a car ferry at Armadale back to the mainland via Mallaig. We were priviledged to see some wild stags, a wide range of colourful birds, squirrels, majestic mountains and a Scotsmen in a kilt playing his bagpipes over the highland mountains.

Some highlights of this day trip would include the Eilean Donan Castle which featured in the Highlander movie, driving through all types of snow, beautiful loch after loch of water, tall trees, colourful mossy woodlands, taking the cable car up to the ski fields outside of Fort William and remote homes located in magical locations.

Monday it was time to start heading back to Bristol and although we were going to go halfway then stop overnight we decided to push through all the way so we could have a good nights rest at home. On the way back we drove through Stirling and into Falkirk. Now this town was on my list of places to get to at some point due to the Falkirk Wheel. It is a magnificent piece of engineering. The working of it is not so complex but the design is beautiful. What is the Falkirk Wheel? A very large canal boat mover (in short). It lifts the canal boat from one waterway up to the other waterway via a wheel system. The design is architectually sleek and in my opinion very beautiful.

In all, we loved our time in Scotland and are keen to head back again at some point for a look at the puffin colonies and even more remote areas of the country.

Fossil Hunting in Lyme Regis

Depending on the outcome of the weather forecast this was going to determine the weekend destination. As I believed my weather forecasting abilities were better than the Met Office we ended up at Lyme Regis for a day of fossil hunting. Of course, this turned out to be in the pouring rain. Obviously I will not be changing my day job any time soon.

Located just under 2 hours away from Bristol, Lyme Regis is located in the South where the county of Dorset meets the English Channel. It is a charming fishing village known for among many things, its fossils. During this trip I learnt about a woman named Mary Anning who is said to have put fossils on the map in this region. Her father was a keen collector and their family sold the fossils to try to make ends meet. She has a very interesting life story should you have the chance to read more about her. A little side note is that Mary is the lady we speak about in the tongue twister “she sells sea shells by the sea shore…”

I figured our fossil collecting expedition would be as fruitful as our gold panning trips in Australia. Read here – a few grains of gold were found at Sofala and Hill End. We were very surprised though how quickly we found the fossils. I have attached a few pics to show you. The very first bit of clay that Steve picked up actually had a shell fossil inside. There were many other stunning examples in the large boulders such as the outline of the ammonite on the rock. The fossils in this area are from the Cretaceous and Jurrasic periods.

Before I went down to Lyme Regis I did wonder how they stopped the area from being stripped of such amazing history. However after having seen it for myself, there are so many of them everywhere that you tend to go “oh theres another one” and walk on by. This doesn’t detract though from the sight of them. The cliff face that they fall down from is a dark gray in colour and very slimy to pick up however the fossils come in all sorts of stone and clay. Most amazingly are the array of colours of the stone, many transulent whites, pinks, greys, purples.

Also this area features quite a bit in Jane Austen’s books. The Cobb has been in a couple of the BBC adaptations of her books. It was originally built to provide a manmade port for ships and has since been rebuilt in Portland stone (1900’s) and was joined up to the land at some earlier point. There is quite a drop either side and a rather big slant on top so you have to be pretty careful walking on it. In a “safety conscience” Britain I am so glad to see they haven’t yet banned people from walking on this!

We really enjoyed our day down here even after having been drenched through to the skin.

Movie: Vantage Point & 10,000 BC

Vantage Point directed by Pete Travis stars Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox (of Lost and Party of Five series) and Forest Whitaker. Recently I saw “The Last King of Scotland” and Forest gave a an incredible performance in that one. But, back to Vantage Point. Based in Salamanca, Spain it follows the attempted assassination of the US President told from different peoples perspectives. Each perspective adds a bit more to the riddle of the story as the assassination plot unfolds.

At about the 3rd “rewind” and replay of another perspective the idea was starting to grow thin but thankfully it then starts to play out through to the end. The plot was interesting and it sometimes reminded of Babel. One scene in particular is the perception from a distance of a altercation between a man and a woman. From the first vantage point it appears to be one sense of emotion but from a different vantage point the scene tells a different story. The point being that what you see is not always the reality. Overall I would rate this a 2.5 out of 5. I would probably watch it again just to pick up on any extra subtleties that I missed and to see the performance of Forest Whitaker again.

10,000 BC

Roland Emmerich has also produced Independence Day and one of my top films The Day after Tomorrow so I was expecting quite a bit from this one. To be honest the CGI just wasn’t that convincing in the Egyptian building site scenes however the boats floating down the Nile were magnificent. You win some and you lose some. There was also possibly some issues with the movie quality either at the cinema end but it looked more likely to have been bad camera quality or something to that effect as it had blue and red interference during a particularly darkly lit scene in the movie. The acting was rather bad, the locations were stunning and the plot interesting. I wouldn’t be inclined to see it again and would probably rate this one 1.5 out of 5.

Hope for Planet Earth

Last Monday night we attended a presentation entitled “Hope for Planet Earth”. Put together by a Christian organisation called the John Ray Initiative their key vision as a charity based educational group is to bring together scientific and christian based understandings of the environment and how we interact. In short – understanding climate change and our responsibilities in relation to the earth as custodians of this while we are here.

At the end of the day there are often a lot of christian organisations valiantly trying to convey gods word but they often fall short because of a lack of resources or possibly drive to meet the high expectations of a media savvy society. So often the talent that many christians possess in their day to day jobs is often not used effectively. Why are our expectations of quality lowered and accepted if it is run by a christian organisation? In short, I wasn’t expecting a lot out of this but was keen to attend.

We were both pleasantly surprised. Yes, the hall was freezing, it was 4 minutes late starting (just within my tardiness tolerance range) and the sound issues were unpleasant. However, the content was informative, well balanced and took a new perspective on what we have heard many times before from many different angles. Key things I personally took away from the presentation were as follows:

1. In Mark 12:33 we are given the great commandment to love God with everything in us (I paraphase here) and to love our neighbour as yourself. I get this but hadn’t been applying it far enough outwardly. Our relentless drive for more is obviously impacting our environment which in turn significantly impacts poorer nations more so than us due to the effects of drought, floods, deforestation etc which creates environmental refugees. We might quite enjoy the warmer weather here in England however the pressures placed specifically on struggling nations means the concept of loving your “neighbour” is broadened.

2. Population growth. Limiting population growth or the opportunity to industrialize in developing countries is short sighted. We need to look at our use of resources. We have had our time of getting to a point where we can generate income and resources to be sustainable, now we need to look at how we use these wisely. Did you know that the resources used to raise one child in Britain is equivilent to resources required to raise 12-16 children in a country such as Bangladesh. With low wages, limited or no access to public services such as hospitals or aged care facilities etc a support system is required and this comes in the form of a large family. Each one of those family members is needed in order to survive. This is what our nations did before the “nuclear” family scenario set in. Over the years wages got better which we feed back into taxes which supply our basic services, we have money for our luxuries and less need for a big family to take care of us in old age. We have gone from an average sized family of 7.3 children to 3.2 children between 1800-1900 (note latter half of 1800 was a key time in the industrial revolution) to today in England it is at 1.86 children per family. What does this mean? We need to limit our excessive need for more and live within our sustainable range. Also, we need to support our neighbours in the developing countries so they can get to a point of sustainable balance.

3. Carbon air miles. The big issue on many peoples minds at this stage. It is driving many people to buy locally etc which is great but we need to ensure that we are not inadvertantly punishing struggling nations from becoming sustainable themselves. Think about where and what you are buying. Where it can be sourced locally do so but think about other products that are assisting developing countries in getting out of the poverty cycle.

4. Alternative fuel sources. Initially a fantastic idea however the issue now is land usage. Greater deforestation is occurring in some developing nations in order to grow this crop which kind of defeats the purpose in many ways. In addition land for food production is now being used for this fuel source leading to food shortages in the nations most needing it. Biofuels are not the be all and end all answer to our woes. Biofuels possibly make us feel better about our carbon emission decrease but don’t address the issue of consumption.

I am still digesting the information at this point and wanted to download from my head what I got from it. It is an ongoing dialogue with myself and I am sure in 5 years time I will look at it again and say “what was I thinking?” given new information and advances in technology etc. Anyway, that’s the download at this point. Hopefully it has given you food for thought, digest it, rebuke it, add to the discussion or whatever takes you fancy.

Trip to the seaside? Maybe not…

The plan was to drive west and get to the seaside. However, as our plans generally seem to be quite fluid when we travel this never eventuated. We did see a lot of the countryside heading out towards the sea but that was about it.

I have put in a few pics of that tour which included a lovely walk around a tiny village off the main road called Lower Quantock. We couldn’t believe it when we rounded a corner on the narrow, winding country road to find a little village of thatch roofed houses. There was a little village church as well to look at which was deserted but open for people to browse through.

Next we headed towards Minehead but got as far as Dunster before we realised that it was getting too late in the day and we needed to start heading home. Before we did though we stopped off on the side of the road for a cappucino (very civilised aren’t we) and some toasted bread that we had left over from our trip to Wells the day before. Shaz we took this pic especially for you so you can see that the toaster you gave us is being put to good use!

Bit of a lazy entry this week as we didn’t do any traveling in the weekend just past. Our big trip to Scotland is coming up soon so we need to focus on planning that one especially as we are hearing stories of snow storms and the like up there. Brrrrrrrrrr.

As we were heading back into Bristol the sun was setting as we got a lovely view of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. This is an amazing design by Isambard Kingdom Brunel who won a design competition in the 1830’s and we now have this bridge as a result of that. He also designed the Temple Meads Railway Station, the bridge crossing the Wye in Chepstow, the rail line from London to Bristol and so much more.