DAY 7: BATH/STONEHENGE/GLASTONBURY

Up and out and heading past towns with ridiculous names like Bishops Nympton and Clapworthy. And enough Upmarys and Bussock Bottoms and Windy Breaks to have me smirking next to a stone-faced Giristroula.

We reach Bath.

I’ve never been here before, but the Greek tells me she has. A group of friends came and, she insists, had a spa.

I find this very difficult to believe, but she maintains that she was here in Bath, lapping herself in the restorative waters, pampering just as the Romans did.

I’m easily taken by the beauty of Bath. I’d guessed the centre would be beautiful, perhaps a few streets round the Roman baths, the Crescent and the Circus. But the Bath stone buildings start pretty much the moment you enter the town, and me and my swivel-eye spend the whole journey into the centre drinking in the Georgian architecture.

We park the car on a meter and walk to the baths.

Giristroula looks crestfallen as we get to there and it transpires she hasn’t been to the baths at all, and the group of Greeks had actually just had a modern spa in a hotel outside the town.

She won’t be getting in this time either, as the queue is formidable and tourists pack the square outside the baths and the towering Abbey – with its comedic Jacob’s Ladder carvings – waiting to get in.

Instead, we choose the option of her DSC_0182-w1000-h1000getting up on my shoulders and attempting to peer over the wall.

And so it is, in front of the perplexed Italians and Japanese, we giraffe around outside for a bit with Giristroula high on my shoulders, me tottering back and forth underneath, as she grasps a glimpse of a bit of water and few faux Roman statues.

We then walk around the town. Have an overpriced Bath bun. Try to block out the tourists.

I’m more taken by the Nash architecture of the Royal Crescent than my travelling companion, but feel the one house that has painted its door yellow rather than all the others’ uniform white appeals to her Greek sense of bloody-mindedness.

(Unlike the Brits, the Greeks of course love to follow no rule they’re ever told to follow. They say in fact the only way to get a Greek to drive at 70mph on the motorways is to tell them “On no account whatsoever should you drive at 70mph on this motorway.”)

I look at the time and with a horror see we only have five minutes before the parking meter runs out.

With melodramatic tales of the poisonous behaviour of British traffic wardens that I have heard about (but have no idea if true or not) I tell Giristroula that I’ll race back to the car. It’s no good her coming, she’s too slow and she’ll only get us lost.

Out of breath having taken wrong turns all over town, I arrive at the car half an hour later to find Giristroula patiently waiting behind the wheel, eyebrow arched. No parking wardens to be seen anywhere.

*

Veering off the vague idea of a vague orbit of the UK for a bit, we head east rather than west from Bath as I feel we really should see Stonehenge on this trip.

Well you can’t leave the country without seeing the famous emblems, as hackneyed and obvious as they may be.

We arrive at the stone circles as the sun begins to set. We walk up to the gate and are told by the hi-vis jacketed guard that we’ll have to pay £32 to get in.

£32.

There is a pause. We stare at each other. A longer pause. He finally breaks. “You can just walk round there,” he says, pointing to the left of the roped off area. “You can see exactly what you can see in here, and it’s free”.

So we do, and stand and take our pictures and wonder, as I suppose all do who come here, just what these stones are all about.

I don’t even attempt an explanation to my travelling Greek companion this time.

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We head back to the car. We have an appointment to keep with a friend in Bristol but I feel, as we’re in semi mystic-mode, we should try and get to Glastonbury too, before night completely falls, and then head onto to Bristol afterwards.

*

We arrive at the Glastonbury Tor just as the light of the day is spluttering to an end.

We climb up in the gloaming, and in a covering of light rain. At the top, the only ones here, we stare out at the counties of Wiltshire and Somerset and Dorset as they slowly put their lights on, and the buildings start to burn on the wheeling circle of dark and light green chessboard fields. Even in the fallen darkness stacking up over us, it is a fine sight.

Day 7 - 5-w1000-h1000And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountain green?

Did Jesus really walk on this mound of earth, as Blake’s poem asks?

One of Jesus’s disciples – Joseph of Arimatheia – is meant to have taken Christ here as a boy on one of his journeys as a tin merchant. Joseph later came again after Christ’s death and set up the very first British church here. Some even say the Holy Grail is planted somewhere on this very hill.

Quite a leap of faith needed to follow all this, I’d have thought. I turn to ask Giristroula, pottering about up here in the gloom, to see what she makes of it all.

But any attempt at dwelling on these higher matters are put to an end though, as as I catch sight down from our vantage point onto our own chariot of fire waiting far below.

I peer into the darkness and watch as a cycling policeman far below us stops his bicycle and takes down the number of our hastily, and I now realise, quite illegally parked car.

Stranded impotently 500 feet up in the air, there is nothing to do but just watch him ticket us and let go with with a low, groaning, inward howl.

“Jesus Christ…” I mutter. And then raise an apologetic eye to the sky above.

We make our way down in silence, and head into Glastonbury town.

Giristroula doesn’t feel any of the otherworldliness of the town much, but I do. Or at least tell myself I do.

It’s not just all the ludicrous witchcraft shops (‘The Goddess and The Green Man’, ‘The Wonky Broomstick’) or the wafts of patchouli oil as we walk down the High Street, I really get the feeling there’s something here… Well I let myself feel like this for a brief while, anyway. As we float along the empty descending street of beautifully cockeyed 19th Century buildings.

My Giristroula has no time for it at all, and her mood doesn’t improve in the ancient George and Pilgrim pub either as the local aging hippies top up their spirituality on pints of walloping cider.

A terrifically drunk man with a face like one of those slobbering dogs that you don’t want to pet, but who wipe their face all over your trousers anyway, grabs her and hugs her close to his large sagging body, inside his large sagging green t-shirt with a dizzying psychedelic spiral on the front. He attempts without great success to talk to her about ley lines.

When we find a seat, a Spanish tourist perches her socked feet next to us on the grill by the blazing open fire to dry out. Giristroula’s mood sinks lower.

But I  maintain my beatific disposition, even back in the car as we get lost in the narrow country roads and consult antediluvian road signs – white and old, with pointing hands, the finger telling us the arcadian way to Bristol.

We arrive late, my friend having laid a Great British cold spread of pork pies and scotch eggs for us – as always, gingerly eaten by the Greek – and I later dream of England’s hermetic Avalon and all the Merlin magic of the West Country as I drift off to sleep in the Ikea bed in the rather cold upstairs spare bedroom. The high moon above peering in at us through the skylight.