Back on the road again and heading south-east the plan was this: Pop into Bath on the way to Hartley Wintney for a wedding, followed by Stonehenge and Brighton before dropping the car off at Gatwick and jetting on (I neglect to mention a stop at Hurstborne Priors as well).
Phew! After getting that off the chest we got to Bath, and what a gorgeous town it is. Famous in England as the sight of the only thermal springs in the land (first exploited by the Romans in around AD 60), it is also an impressively cute University town and tourist hub.
After taking in the baths, we strolled the streets, looked at the Abbey (but couldn’t enter as like in Cardiff, the town was full of graduations), bought some salted caramel fudge and killed some time before we could tack onto a free guided city tour (they left from right outside the baths).
We hung around for a while, as the group formed and the tour began, however it quickly became apparent that the group would be moving far too slowly for our liking, so we slunk off the back rather than say any awkward goodbyes and made our way directly to the Circus and the Royal Crescent (which the tour was going to miss in any case).
I’m not being critical of city walking tours here, especially those run by volunteers, however our participation is severely limited by how slow many of them proceed, and we generally find we can get 3 times as much done on our own, just lacking that local polish.
After a quick lunch (Pret again), we again hit the road and before long realised our route would be taking us pretty close to Salisbury Plain. Why not do Stonehenge today? So after a quick detour, we did.
Being such a famous place, I won’t dwell on it for too long, however we did take the time to walk the circle, again enjoying an audio guide which these English seem to have at every attraction, but do pretty well (the one at Westminster Abbey was narrated by Jeremy Irons which was a nice touch). It was an enjoyable stop, despite the again hot 30 degree+ weather.
Our next stop was in complete contrast to the last. Taking a turn off the major roads (although for this whole days journey, we’d tried to avoid the motorways so we could catch the English countryside) we took a few narrow turns on roads now devoid of traffic.
Here was Hurstbourne Priors, a tiny village in lush green countryside. A side hobby of mine over the past 12 months has been Genealogy, and through these pursuits it was discovered that I had family lineage in these parts from my fathers mothers side of the family.
As it was so close to our route, I thought it a great opportunity to look at the home of some of my ancestors, and thus we found ourselves there.
It does have some rich history of its own, as the town church, St Andrews, is actually the oldest in the entire diocese of Winchester (nobody else saw this as a drawcard as we didn’t see a single person anywhere).
We wandered the overgrown and weathered graves for a short while in the off chance I might spot some Harding names, but with no luck. I said my goodbyes and it was then on to Hartley Wintney for the next days wedding.
The wedding itself was lovely, however that tale belongs to somebody else, so I won’t share it here. It was however a full English wedding, so for the first time i experienced a wedding in three courses. The wedding ceremony, the wedding breakfast, and the wedding reception (back home in Australia, the breakfast and reception are combined).
The breakfast/reception was held in the beautiful Elvetham Manor (where we also stayed) which was a nice little treat.
Whilst at the wedding (I forgot to mention, we also had a sensational meal at The Cricketers Arms in Hartley Wintney on the wedding eve with the village green as the sumptuous view) we received quite a bit of advice relating to our plans of ducking down to Brighton the next morning.
Most suggested that we were most unwise to attempt it, as all it would take would be one incident on the motorway and we would miss our flights. Trusting in the local knowledge, we did a bit of Googling, found the projected distance from Brighton to Gatwick was only 30+ miles.
We decided to risk it, but leave ourselves plenty of time to spare in case of emergency (we were still advised to not even bother attempting to go). It seemed such a classic British seaside destination, and the lure of Fish & Chips on the pier was just too strong (cliched I know).
Perhaps fortunately for us, the weather was only mid 20’s after the scorching 30+ weather that had been the norm, however the beach was still very busy. A quick dip of our feet in the water to say we had was enough however, as it was still pretty damn cold!
Those aforementioned Fish & Chips (I had both Haddock & Cod in England and contrary to popular myth, both tasted delicious) and a quick look at the Royal Pavilion and we were on the road by 1pm for our 6pm flight.
*Postscript to this post: Despite all of the warnings of English traffic, even we didn’t foresee what would occur. After the surprise of discovering Gatwick had 2 Terminals, we dropped off our hire car at the North, only to discover our flight was departing from the South. Thankfully a shuttle a shuttle train runs between the 2… where I discovered I’d booked our flights online and not paid for any checked luggage (insert large extra fee here). So we finally got all these hassles sorted and got through check in with only 4 hours to spare… (the trip from Brighton took us all of 1/2 an hour)