Travel Tuesday: Pre-Roman Britain

Unlike previous trip recaps, my 2018 England trip is not going to be chronological but rather thematic. My trip was rather hap hazard and doing a day by day travelog just won’t work.  I’d like to think they’ll take up the next Tuesdays and Thursday as Travel Tuesday or Throwback Thursday, but I know my own blogging habits to know that probably isn’t realistic. Also, this stupid Flickr plugin is still misbehaving.

Other Write-Ups To Come:

  • London’s Churches: St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey
  • London’s Castles and Palaces: Buckingham, Kensington and the Tower of London
  • Walking London
fun with filters

“Two legends are wound about Avalon, the legend of the Cup and the legend of the Sword – the cup from which Our Lord drank at the Last Supper, and in which the drops of His Blood were caught; and Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, engraved with ancient pagan runes. Two traditions meet in Avalon – the ancient faith of the Britons, and the creed of Christ.” ~ Dion Fortune

I knew when this trip came together that I really wanted to do Stonehenge. Like Rushmore last year, I accepted that it would probably be a let down, but it fascinated me. After some research I booked a tour with International Friends that took in both Stonehenge and Glastonbury. The original plan included Winchester but they had to adjust that due to access issues, and Avebury ended up being way more interesting than Winchester would have been.

Why did I go for one that included Glastonbury vs. say, Bath, Windsor, Oxford or the Cotswolds? In short: I have a soft spot for the legends and tales around King Arthur and while I know that Glastonbury’s ties are considered iffy with recent research-not to mention that it’s hard to visit the site of a legend-I still wanted to see it since it was reasonably accessible.

The night before this trip left, I realized I probably should do some reading on Stonehenge and a perusal of NYPL’s Kindle offerings introduced me to Francis Pryor’s Stonehenge: the Story of a Sacred Landscape. I was subsequently pleased to see that and one of his other titles for sale in the English Heritage gift shop at Stonehenge, therefore lending some legitimacy to a book I was enjoying. I didn’t finish it on time, but learned a lot: my review. Speaking of books at Stonehenge’s gift shop, I didn’t buy this Oxford Guide to Arthurian Legends because the font was way too small, and now I find it’s not available for Kindle. Or Nook. First world bookworm problems!

Monday morning started early and I met the bus at Marble Arch. We made two other stops to pick up others on the tour and I was thrilled we were not only a small vehicle, but that we were only seven people. It made everything a lot more efficient time wise, and more accessible. It also felt like a private tour in some ways because the guide got to know each of us, and what we were interested in learning more about. He’s lived & guided in a number of locations worldwide so it helped him contextualize some of the sights we were visiting.

The first stop just minutes away from Stonehenge was Woodhenge, with which I was completely unfamiliar. It was helpful though in teaching us about the Stonehenge Avenue, Cursus and other key features of the landscape that explain how Stonehenge isn’t “just” a circle of rocks. I think that’s what leaves people walking away unimpressed. Key to understanding Stonehenge is understanding why it was constructed and what role it was meant to play for those who lived and made pilgrimages to it. As a circle of stones, it may not mean enough for people considering the travel time from London, but as a place of cultural significance? Absolutely.  Beware of some serious woo out there when researching Stonehenge.

first sighting
Heel stone with winter solstice arrow

As a tourism professional, I love how they’ve set up the Stonehenge experience. They closed one of the major roads and run access to the Stones via shuttle buses (or a walking path) from the Visitor Center. I think it makes the first viewing even more awe-inspiring. It’s also much more pleasant to walk around the circle without high traffic, although there’s still a road that goes fairly close. I’m glad we were there early in the morning as there was no wait for the shuttles, which wasn’t the case when it was time to leave. Although I think the Stones might have been more striking against a blue sky, the overcast seemed to lend an aura of mystique to them and allowed the different textures, heights and scale to show more. While it’s true that Stonehenge imagery is saturated, it was still great to see them live. Other companies run tours where you can go in early or stay late, and I’m not sure that’s of interest to me – it would be a very long drive only to do Stonehenge. That said, sunrise or sunset at the right time of year could be pure magic.

National Trust sign near lot adjacent to the Tor
Glastonbury Tor, remains of St. Michael’s Church

From Stonehenge it was a long-ish drive to Glastonbury, reported to be a very hippie town. I actually didn’t find it overwhelmingly so. Our first stop was Glastonbury Tor, just outside town. It’s run by the National Trust who share some of the legends about the Tor. On some level, the ties between Arthur make historical sense, especially the Tor and the adjacent Somerset Levels’ flooding throughout history. Do I believe King Arthur was literally a man who walked the soil of early Britain? No. Do I understand where the legend/fairy tale could come from and survive? Yes. The setting is perfect for these stories. And who doesn’t love a good fairy tale?

Chalice Well Gardens

Arthur isn’t the only story with ties to the region. Chalice Well is claimed to be the place where Joseph of Arimathea brought the chalice from the Last Supper. I’m not a Christian, so it isn’t my place to judge a religion that isn’t mine’s history – but I’m more than a little confused how this man would have ended up in the English countryside. Northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, or somewhere in the Mediterranean? Sure. I’m a little iffy on England.  And yes, I drank the kool aid err… iron water. A week later, I’m still breathing. It tasted better than Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth which was more sulphury. Still, it was an interesting piece of history to learn about and pilgrims continue to come to Glastonbury for both of these as well as for the stunning remains of the Abbey in town.

Great Hall, Glastonbury Abbey
Glastonbury Abbey ruins

Like the rest of Glastonbury, the ruins of the Abbey are tied up in a mix of history and legend. Do I believe Edward I oversaw the reburial of Arthur and Lady Guinevere? No. But tourism was understood to bring money throughout history so I can see why that story was promoted. As someone familiar with and interested in the legends around Arthur, I’m confused how they were ever buried since it’s alleged that the Lady of the Lake took him… But I digress. What stunned me about the Abbey was its construction. It’s not like the contemporary churches where we understood how they were built. This, the Great Pyramids, Stonehenge… just how did they construct these? How did they reach such great heights? It must have been stunning prior to the fire. And the recent research around the glass found at the Abbey site is phenomenal. Whatever the myths and legends around Glastonbury, it was active and thriving until the Dissolution. Impossible not to think of what could have been.

While I’m not Christian (or Pagan), I’m fascinated by myths, legends and religious histories so I was happy to find Glastonbury: Avalon of the Heart available in Kindle edition through NYPL. Unfortunately it was a little too heavy on the woo for me, presenting some of these stories as literal fact. I’m not sure if that was the author’s bent or just a factor of it having been published in 1934, but it didn’t complement my experience the way Pryor’s Stonehenge book did. To be fair, a number of the reviews clearly said this wasn’t the book for skeptics. We didn’t have time to climb the Tor, but this is an interesting look at it and I found it more accessible as it was steeped somewhat in facts and history to go with the myths.

Although I’m a non believer, I found Glastonbury fascinating. In many ways, it’s how I felt about Israel when I went. Was there a King Herod?  Maybe. Masada is a stunning fortress regardless. The other tie between the two that fascinated me was linguistically: Tor was a hill and when we were in northern Israel we learned that “Armageddon” comes from Har/Tel Meggido an archaeological mound. I’m not at all familiar with Celtic or Hebrew, but that caught my attention immediately.

Avebury: for scale
Avebury perimeter

The tour originally called for Winchester, but when the guide explained the access challenges and the fact that the round table has been proven to be an reconstruction, we were all sold on Avebury as a replacement. It is no loss, it’s the largest Stone Circle in Britain and surreally empty, save for sheep. I’d heard of Silbury Hill, which we saw on the drive in, but the only stone circle I was familiar with prior was Stonehenge. It was amazing to see the scale of Avebury’s, and to be able to walk among them. While the perimeter was a clearly delineated line, the other stones appear haphazard but it may have originally been a square formation. While current research leads to the belief that Stonehenge was associated with death rituals, it is believed that Avebury was associated with fertility. Both of those make sense within Pryor’s point that religion played a larger role in the prehistoric people’s lives, and the artifacts that seem to show that no one lived permanently at either location but traveled to them.

If this were my tour to design, I’d flip Avebury and Stonehenge. I understand why that isn’t done — the crowds at Stonehenge would be insane on a nice summer afternoon — I think there’s a lot to absorb at Avebury that would be easier to take in on a fresher brain. Maybe that’s just me. We didn’t visit the museum or any of the other National Trust facilities, and I’m not sure I’d go back in order to do so-but I’d love to learn more about the site since it’s so complex.

Overall, a great intro to/refresher on pre-Roman Britain. Pre historic as a term drives me nuts. You can’t be pre history!

London Calling, weeks of 8.12, 8.19

So London was meant to be part of an organized runcation, but that didn’t get the minimum number of people to go forward. By the time it was cancelled I already had the time off work and the itch to go to London for the first time in 17 years-not counting a layover 11 years ago- and I decided why not.  I’m an obsessive trip planner and immediately hit up a Google map. Grown ups think of literature based London prompts. Me? All nursery rhymes. I had Pussycat, pussycat in my head throughout. I also picked up a London version of the Moleskine City books and while I didn’t use the features for which I bought it: the maps, I really loved it for making trips before and during the trip.

While I was unsure about pre-booking a run tour I hit up Strava for a couple of routes including a River Thames sightseeing loop, a 6-7 mile run of the Royal Parks, and Regent’s Park/Primrose Hill for the views.

More to come on the London front in another (series of) posts. In the mean time, weekly wrap catch up. I’ll do what I can to catch up on reading as well.

Weekly Wrap with Holly and Wendy:

Week of 8.12:

  • Monday:  for the first time in a while #NeverMissAMonday was running based. I had an epic case of do not wanna and had to literally bribe myself to get an additional quarter mile from miles 1-3. Some things never change. I did the same workout as this Monday and came in about thirteen seconds faster. I alternated quarter miles at 5.5 with 6.3 with .05 miles of walking at 3.3 after each 6.3 segment. The walk segments were consistently shorter and the running quarter mile segments didn’t fluctuate in speed.
  • Tuesday: was supposed to be a cross training day, but I was at the office late getting some deadline items done and really needed to pack for London, so it turned into a rest day. I also think four days in a row was not a smart plan with the distances I wanted to do to run/sightsee in London.
  • Wednesday: finally got the chance to meet Darlene who seems to run here as much as I do, despite not living in the city. It was a beautiful evening with relatively little humidity and we had a comfortable run/walk through Central Park. Other than office run group I don’t typically run with others, so this was good practice in running at a conversational pace. Not linking Strava because holy hell did my watch have a hissy fit or six.
  • Thursday: office run group and my watch worked! Alas it was 85+ and 60% humidity so we weren’t setting any land speed records. Still nice to catch up with some folks between vacations.
  • Friday: London bound!
  • Saturday: I wanted to shake off the plane stiffness and explore a little so I’d be tired enough to go to sleep on London time. The training plan called for 8 and I got in 9.10 photo taking, sightseeing miles. It was super crowded by the Eye and across Tower Bridge as I took the very long way from my hotel to Buckingham Palace via a version of the Thames Path above. Couldn’t get Strava to work properly offline, but it was easy enough to follow the riverside paths. London is a great running city.
  • Sunday: no running, but sightseeing took in 12.38 miles, so I’m not calling that a rest day!

Week of 8.19

Some of this fell under Saturday and Sunday, above, but it’s still insane to look at. When I left for London I’d walked about 238K steps on the month, run 30 miles and run walked 112. I ran/walked 89.31 miles, ran 20.56 miles in the UK. Most insanely? 204, 202 fitbit steps! There’s a chance for my third 500K step month. I was 13 miles off my 700 miles on the year pace when I left and less than five off when I got back. What did that look like? Note: some of these links are more London sightseeing than running photos. Assume I’m forgiven 😀

  • Monday: my only true rest day. I’d booked a day trip to Stonehenge, Glastonbury and Winchester (which turned into Avebury) and there was a lot of driving. It also left really early and wrapped with dinner with two wonderful friends. Fell asleep before I could hit my step goal, hysterical compared to the other days
  • Tuesday: back in London and a short-ish morning run on the Thames before ten more miles of walking exploring Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and the British Museum.
  • Wednesday: traveled to Birmingham to meet Liz! We met through Bookcrossing shortly after I joined in 2005 and just missed one another in Iceland last February, but the stars aligned and we planned a visit while I was in the UK. I got a little of my typical first meeting jitters, but those were gone as soon as we met at the train station and as long as we were awake, we didn’t shut up for the entirety of my visit. So amazing when someone is just as fun live as online. No running today, but we explored architecturally fascinating Birmingham and I got to see Dippy! Dinosaurs turn me from 38 to 3. We also walked some of the canals Liz ran along during her race a couple weeks back. The day finished in both book swapping and running form when we had a lovely curry with running bookworms. So much fun.
as we took off down the block
Post-run selfie!
  • Thursday: we got to run together! Cool, drizzly, refreshing run. Liz took me on a tour of her area, which I’d seen through her blog and a photography project which she’s participated in for five years. Great to see it in 3D. I had a good laugh though, Liz was way better about pausing her watch to cross streets, etc. and I’ve mostly just written that off as slow downs. Yet Strava gave me a better pace than it did her. Strava, you’re drunk. Here’s Liz’s wrap, which also includes our run. When I first started blogging about running it was just a diary for myself, then I either linked Liz or she found it and started reading. She introduced me to the Runners’ Bookshelf where I met Wendy, who introduced me to this linkup.  Life is good! I also now have a buff from Liz’s running club, so cool. Over the years we’ve had various discussions on American v. British English terms for things. When she first mentioned a buff, I had no idea what it was. Turned out it was less American v. British and more running English. Oh the jargon, although that really isn’t one.

After running, we headed to explore Stratford-Upon-Avon (where else could two book lovers go?!) Rejuvenated after the train ride back to London, I decided to take advantage of St. Paul’s summer late hours and was treated to an amazing sunset. 6 AM run, gorgeous sunset. Why yes I am trying to pack in all the sightseeing!

  • Friday: last full day in London and the only part of it that I’m willing to call a rest day is the boat ride to Greenwich after doing the Tower of London. Or possibly the 15m squiz back to my hotel to charge my phone before heading to Tate Modern and dinner with a friend who I worked with in Japan 17 years ago. Another 11 miles walking day. See what I mean? Not a rest day.
  • Saturday: knew I had to leave for the airport around 10:30 so I headed out for a farewell run of London. It was a beautiful 60 and crisp. Had to abandon my usual shade running for warmth until I warmed up. It was in three parts (1,2,3) as I also did a few pre-flight errands. Wasn’t long run mileage, but better than nothing and helped me be tired enough to doze on the long flight home. Thanks to AA rebooking I was able to get a direct flight home and was tucked in bed before original connection was to take off. Life is good sometimes.
stocked smoothie fridge
oh hello beautiful East River. I missed you!
  • Sunday: I was actually not up too early time zone wise, but arranged for grocery delivery between 6 and 8AM. Why the urgency? I had no creamer for my coffee. Wasn’t supposed to be an issue as with planned connection I’d have overnighted at mom’s.  Since I was up and it was beautiful, I decided to go for a run to shake out the legs. It also looked to be the last good outdoor running day as it’s to be in the 90s all week. Yuck. The run was OK (I was tired) until my water bottle fell. I thought I hadn’t fastened the top loop. Nope, bottom came undone. I guess it’s to be expected with the weight of a 20 oz bottle bouncing up and down. When I looked up my orders, I realized I bought it on August 24, so it’s older than I thought. Time to find a new one and maybe make peace with icky, dirty reusable bottles. Any favorite hydration belts? Can’t use a backpack as they’re not allowed in NYRR races, which are most of what I do. Also, think the straw would gross me out too much. I ran a little more but had nothing left in me, so met mom for brunch got some girly girl things done and came home to crash.
farewell fair belt!

All in all an amazing trip, and great exercise week. I came home weighing less than when I left, and so many memories. More TK. Although I didn’t end up booking a running tour due to my schedule, I’d recommend London as an active vacation spot. England marked the 4th country outside the US that I’ve run in, 2nd outdoors.

Total 10M Training Mileage, July 31 to date: 55.77 miles.

Review: The English Girl by Daniel Silva

This book has nothing to do with travel, weight loss, or New York City. Why is it here? Because, this series was the tipping point in finally getting me to go to Israel. I wanted to see the places that Silva described so vividly. Shamron’s Tiberias. Gabriel’s place on Narkiss Street. … As an aside, why do some characters feel right as a last name but not as a first and vice versa?

This was the 28th book I’ve finished in 2013, and like the rest of the Allon series, one I could easily have read in one sitting if I’d had enough time. This blog took a lot longer to write and post than the book did to read. Odd. English Girl was also the first book I read on iBooks and I really like that as a reading experience. It and the Kindle app beat the Nook app, hands down. I did not want to leave the world of Gabriel Allon, but then again I never do. Is it July 2014 yet?

“In the Op Center at King Saul Boulevard, however, he was but a single red light, an angel of vengeance alone in the city of heretics.”

The English Girl is the most recent title in Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series.  There are spoilers here, so read on at your own risk

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