Monday, August 28, 2006

Swindon and Avebury

Now for the exciting part! When we left our heroine, she and her luggage were travelling to Bristol. You'll be pleased to know that the train left on time and she arrived in Swindon about 7pm. One problem - she hadn't been able to contact the Swindon TIC to book a room.

Being an enterprising little soul, her first step was to cross the road. One hotel, closed. Her next step was to find a taxi driver and ask if he knew where there were any cheap hotels or B&Bs. The taxi driver took her to the Holiday Inn Express, which does rooms for £60 per night. This is where the drama begins. Unwilling to part with the cost of two week's groceries for fairly standard accommodation, our heroine takes her luggage and ventures forth looking for an alternative. It's the long weekend, so everything's jumping - the only thing is, none of the pubs do rooms.

Back to the station - this time, ask the staff if they know of anywhere. They do, there is another place across the road. All I can say about the Amethyst B&B is that I would have been a great deal safer sleeping on a bench at the station - I've never been inside a flophouse before, but I reckon this fits the description. I figured I was in strife when the receptionist showed every sign of being wasted - I made some excuse about not having enough money and did a runner.

This time, my cunning plan was to go back to the station and to ask if they had an overnight service to anywhere. I was happy enough to go up to Scotland and back if I could sleep safely during the trip!! The staff were total legends - they got on the phone and rang half a dozen places, finally sorting me out with the most gorgeous little B&B up in the Old Town, the Bradford Guest House, they even booked me a taxi. I filled out the customer service survey on the spot and named everyone there as total legends. They'd bloody better get a bonus for it!!

As if that weren't enough, the B&B was on the bus route to Avebury - I'd given up hope of getting there. To top it off, buses only run every two hours on Bank Holidays, so the B&B owners drafted their teenage daughter to drive me over. If a shop had been open, I'd have bought them a mixed dozen of Aussie wines, but it's Bank Holiday - so I gave them a £10 tip, they'd earned it.

Avebury (, for me, was even more magical than Stonehenge. Stonehenge is massive and awe-inspiring, but Avebury sort of sneaks up on you. The entire village is built within a stone circle. Over the years, some of the stones were broken up and quite a few were buried to save the locals' souls from nasty pagan thoughts - in the 1930s, Alexander Keiller realised that this was quite an interesting archaeological site and funded the excavations - in the end, he bought the entire site to preserve it. I walk around the village, which has a lot of lovely thatched Tudor cottages and a cute Saxon church, past stone after stone - the original builder seem to have had a boy/girl pattern in mind, but it's hard to tell as a lot of the stones have been destroyed. (Boy = tall, straight stone - Girl = rounded or diamond shaped stone).

Out of town, there are stone circles, a massive man-made hill and all sorts of interesting bits and pieces - unfortunately, I don't get to see all that, as I have to catch a train to London. However, I am more than happy to have had the experience of walking around a perfectly ordinary village through perfectly ordinary sheep pastures past bloody massive monolithic rocks. I note that some of the older buildings appear to include quite large rocks in their construction - no prizes for guessing where some of the missing pieces of the circle went to!!

Avebury is not the tourist trap that Stonehenge is - that has advantages, as the stones aren't fenced off and you can walk around freely, even touching them (although there are signs warning of erosion on some of the banks). I talk for a while with two women while their three-year-old charge stuffs a rubber ball into a hole in one of the stones. It also has disadvantages - in the womens' toilets, an angry visitor has written "One toilet, nothing is F*G open, you F*G stupid, Limey (etc, etc - just imagine lots of swearing) THIS PLACE SUCKS - STONEHENGE IS BETTER".

From Avebury back to Swindon, then a short trip to London, where I am staying at the Luna and Simone hotel. Again, love the Lonely Planet, I have really fallen on my feet - £40 for a single room with ensuite, right around the corner from Buckingham Palace. I'm just on my way up now to see if Her Majesty is home...


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