It was a stroke of luck that I caught the one direct train from Brighton to Salisbury this morning. I had declined reserving a seat online because I wasn’t sure what time I was going to go, and reserving seats isn’t usually even an option. Then, when I got on the (empty) train, I realized that nearly every seat was reserved already. I managed to find a free one in front of a table. I had brought my lunch to eat on the train, like I usually do, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to pack it myself today. I seem to have simultaneously run out of peanut butter, fruit, vegetables, crisps, and I’m very nearly out of bed. It’ll be time to go to the grocery store soon, I reckon…. but today, I bought a sandwich from the station.
Madame Bovary has been my train companion of late. It’s really lovely to finally have the time and energy to read for pleasure. I’m enjoying it immensely, and I will definitely keep it up for the rest of my trip. There are lots of train rides in my near future, after all, and thrift stores are always well-stocked with classics.
Only one person ever occupied my table for four with me. He got on the train shortly after I did, but was going much further down the line. Unfortunately, I never got his name. We just got to chatting without introductions or any of that. He’s an ecologist, currently working on his masters, but he seems to spend most of his time travelling. We traded adventure stories. Usually, things like that are pretty inspiring… but I don’t see myself driving across the African desert in the near future. It’s a little different for young women.
The weather today was gorgeous. English people laughed at me when I said so. Were they not here yesterday?! After that dismal affair, anything is gorgeous. Today really was, though. It was dry and 60 degrees out. A little overcast, but hey, that just makes for better lighting in photos.
Salisbury is a sweet town. I arrived at 1:00. My friend Marcos was meeting me at 4:00, and then we were going to go to Stonehenge together. I wanted an early start so I could see the Cathedral and meander around the town. It was a really sweet town with lots of bridges over little rivers. I passed innumerable vintage, antique, or just local shops that were all sadly closed on Sundays.
The Salisbury Cathedral has quite the reputation for being one of the most beautiful places in all of England, as well as housing the Magna Carta. It was lovely from the outside. The stained glass interior didn’t disappoint either. The architecture was stunning. I took some time to light a candle and pray for my Nonnie. She’s been feeling especially unwell lately, and could really use everyone’s prayers. The Cathedral also had book into which you could enter petitions that the parishioners would pray for every Sunday for the following month, so I wrote her into it. There is going to be a whole cathedral of people praying for her recovery for the next month now, so she should be better in no time.
The Cathedral was built as a Catholic church but eventually changed to a Protestant church. It was interesting to see the two combined. The architecture was very much the classic and regal Catholic cathedral, the decorations very modern and Protestant, and the contrast between the two really set each other off.
I got a call from Marcos around this time. His train to Salisbury had been cancelled; typical English rail system. He wouldn’t be able to make it there in time. This was pretty sad, but the show must go on.
There was no photography allowed anywhere near the Magna Carta. Historically it’s a pretty cool document, but it’s not much to look at. No, it really was cool. There are only four surviving of the original copies, and the one at Salisbury is in the best condition. It’s just rather hard to describe. It’s a large piece of paper with calligraphic Latin written all over it. But it did a lot for the world!
The quickest way to get to Stonehenge was via tour bus. It left at 4:00. Much to my delight, there was audio commentary giving information about the various buildings we passed. There’s little I love more than a good tour. The fields between Salisbury and Stonehenge were owned and used by the British military. In WWII, international troops gathered and trained here before D Day. Now that England is no longer in wartime, the land is leased out to farmers.
Stonehenge appears quite suddenly. The countryside is more hilly than you expect it to be. You feel like you’re looking out over vast expanses of Kansas farmland, but it’s actually just very large hills at a very gently angle.
I didn’t really know what to expect from Stonehenge, but you can’t help but gasp at the first glimpse of it. Even now, I think it’s most impressive from a distance. It’s odd to see something in person that you have been looking at pictures of all your life. On one hand, you know what to expect. On the other, you never expect it to be real.
The bus driver was kind enough to hold onto my bags for me, as he would be the same coach that returned to pick us up. There weren’t many people visiting the site today. I knew I wouldn’t be able to approach the stones, which is admittedly disappointing. If I had been able to get in the area early enough in the morning, it would have been worth the extra money to go inside the inner ring.
It’s still impressive, though. There are parts of it to which you can get quite close. There’s a general circle around it that you are allowed to walk on, and it is a good combination of views near and far. I spent just over an hour there. That’s all the time you need to really soak it in, I think. Much less time wouldn’t do, either. You need to be there long enough to get over the initial shock and take your souvenir photographs so you can start to relax and actually think about the crazy, mysterious history behind it.
A friend of mine, Ted, specially requested that I send him something from Stonehenge. It’s one of his favorite things in the world. I did my best to find something good for him, and I’ll send that package off tomorrow. I hope it’s a good surprise!
The farmland that surrounds Stonehenge is covered in burial mounds. I wonder what it was like to grow up as a child in this section of countryside. Do you play on the mounds? As a rebellious teenager, do you sit on top of them and listen to your hardcore music while thinking about the 4000 year old bones just a few feet below you?
Back on the tour bus, we passed Old Sarum on our way back to the town. It’s the ancient fortified former city of Salisbury. It’s pretty impressive from a bus window. The people who settled it took a natural hill built trenches and walls into the sides. Eventually, after squabbles between Church and State and some other problems, the town resettled in its present location, at the intersection of quite a few different rivers.
The bus dropped me off back at the train station. It had been a long day and an adventurous weekend. The time was already past 6:00 and I was tired, so I decided to head back to Brighton. In an amazing stroke of luck, the only direct train from Salisbury to Brighton of the afternoon was departing in a short 15 minutes.
On the ride back, I finished Madame Bovary. For those not familiar with the French classic, it does not end well for her. Yet, I had a hard time really sympathizing with her. She was a shallow, petty adulterous while her husband was kind, patient, and utterly devoted. It was engaging regardless of this fact. There’s a feeling I get whenever I finish a good book. It’s kind of warm, very quiet, and maybe a little bit saying goodbye. I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s just been so long that I’ve read a book for my own enjoyment that I took a little extra long to just enjoy it. The train is a perfect place for reflection. Then I moved on to playing Solitaire, and arrived in Brighton at dusk.