Sunday, 7 September 2008

Avebury: stoned-o-blog™ day 1

Monday, 18 February 2008

IMG_8225Thanks to a lovely intervention from our dear Daughter of Middleness, the Iarlles Loötës, we are off on a quick hol. The sweet child, perceiving her parents as stressed (ha, nonsense, I am hardly warmed up yet) announced that we needed a break, and proceeded to fix it up. Just like that!! How is this possible? It is entirely alien to my way of thinking. I mean, for all I know she was also cooking an omelette and playing the Neruda Concerto while dictating a foreign policy memo to the Pope, and I am quite impressed as it usually takes me fourteen months of sweating, swearing, screaming and gibbering to seriously contemplate booking a holiday, never mind actually picking the phone up. For this one all we had to do was chuck some things in a bag and point the car westwards. It's, like, cool.

So here we are in a very nice National Trust cottage (I really must now and forever abandon my regular 'joke' of substituting Front for Trust as it is not that funny, disconcerts the careless eavesdropper, and frightens the horses) in Avebury. Why Avebury? Well, if you don't know what is special about Avebury you should probably read about it here or here but, to give you the executive summary, it is (a) a sweet little Wiltshire village right in the middle of (b) a humongous great Neolithic stone circle with massive earthworks. If that's not a pretty strong USP then I do not know what is, Tamsin. Dear reader, please click the picture at the top of this piece and note the monster stones and earthworks just behind our cottage. This is a truly incredible place.

I've been here as a teenager (yes ha ha indeed Colin, just when the stones were new, see me afterwards) but not since, so I was very excited when the Iarlles announced that we were coming here. I will (I hope) come back to this issue of Avebury and why it's so great.

Meanwhile, back in Muesli Hill, it is Monday morning and we are attempting to leave. This leaving/packing process is not one at which I am very good and I'd be a lot happier and nicer had I not stayed up late last night trying to get some work done. (More of this particular problem one day, if I do not forget, or can be bothered, or do not think it will induce terminal boredom in swathes of my massive readership.) So tensions are already running high when my work rings with a web problem. I think I am going to be treated to the sensation of my head actually erupting right off my shoulders and whizzing round the room like a suddenly-released party balloon. However, it is a very legitimate call concerning something which I would much rather sort out myself, and with a quick bit of typy-clicky-savey stuff I can rescue a stupid situation which is not of our making but will harm us if left unresolved. (Long story: can you say "careless silly bad incoming link from PDF in major scientific journal who should know much, much better"? Good good.)

Anyway with that fixed we were set to go, and did. It was the usual slight drag getting out of London (remind me never never to try the North Circular south of Hanger Lane again!) but OK once we had, and when we left the M4 at Junction 16 it suddenly all became rather pleasant.

With a 3.30 move-in time for the cottage we were not in a rush so we stopped at a village pub, the White Horse in Winterbourne Bassett. This made for a very pleasant start to the holiday - nice food and people, lovely location: we ate out in a conservatory, serenaded by birds singing in the garden.

Then we popped into Devizes and did some shopping - the usual Sainsburys kind of stuff but also a pet shop to get Daisy an extending lead, and so on. Ooh yes, the pet shop had a very nice wire-haired dachshund and his nephew who was small and cute. We didn't really see much of Devizes but it seemed pleasant, and we may be back there.

Once that was over we moved in, picking the key up from a clever digital lock thing which is quite a neat way of doing unattended handovers. The cottage is gorgeous. It's called Fishlock's Cottage and is the easternmost cottage in Avebury, still well within the henge. It's the first time in goodness knows how long that we've been in a one-bedroomed cottage and it's very odd, but nice. Fortunately we know that the kids are all OK or at least OK-ish and the whole thing has been constructed along the lines of allowing us a guilt-free break, so here we are.

IMG_8399 There's a main cottage with a later extension to the west, that is, to your left as you look at it . Though it must have formerly been quite cramped as a single dwelling, the main part now contains only the large living/dining room (is that what estate agents call a through-lounge?) on its ground floor, and upstairs the one bedroom and the bathroom, so it feels about right. The kitchen is in the new extension along with the heating equipment, cupboards, a useful back door (which it makes sense to use) and so on. So it's really a very efficient, nicely-shaped little house which was just perfect for us. Apart from the kitchen window (and possibly one piddly little window in the living room), the ground floor only looks southwards, where there is a field and the earth banks and ditches, but essentially sees no stones. From upstairs the story is different: the nice, light, airy bedroom looks both north and south, and has an excellent view of several stones and, come to think of it, quite a bit of the whole monument. In the field behind the house are a few stones which are not part of the ring per se but are part of the monument, and it is quite exciting that they are so close. (You can spook yourself about whether they get even closer in the night, but that's another story!)

IMG_8234 It's pretty much impossible to resist the urge to walk round the henge, so we didn't: and very pleasant it was too. We'd left it quite late but, rather than spoiling the view, this made us beneficiaries of the most wonderful sunset which seemed to go on for ever.

It is utterly, utterly fantastic to walk round the stones - you get a wonderful feel for how the place is and the great variety between different sectors as you travel round (most of) the perimeter. I cannot really explain what a bizarre, beautiful and fascinating site Avebury is. It's really a seriously amazing place to be.

IMG_8274_ave_sunset Eventually, of course, it did get too dark to be wandering around a non-flat area covered in stones and big drops. It's a very odd moment when you've been concentrating on the sky, which is still light, and then you suddenly realize that your feet are in the dark! Anyway,off we went back home to the lovely Fishlock's and that was pretty much that.

It honestly feels like a real privilege to be staying in this little house. Its position, actually within the stone circle and practically girded by hugely impressive earthworks, is - haha - unparalleled. What a spot to spend a short holiday.

While we were shopping in Devizes the question of tonight's dinner had arisen and my Dear Wife Bless Her had asked me what I fancied for our first meal in Fishlock's. There's only one correct answer to this: "steak". So we bought some nice steak and now, later, having enjoyed our walk, we're now seriously in Steak Mode: it's extremely delicious and the mountains of onions, a mandatory part of the ritual, are just perfectly onionoidal. Ah yes. We have definitely arrived in Avebury.