1 October 2011 (Saturday) - Wiltshire
A reasonably prompt start on our long weekend. Once I'd got some petrol in the car, we set off. The M20 and M26 were as well as could be expected, but there was a dodgy five minutes on the M25: some twonk was weaving in and out of the lanes of traffic at very high speed. It was clearly only going to be a matter of time until he wrapped himself around a lamp post.
The M3 was a different matter though. Traffic was stopping and starting seemingly at random. From going at a steady 70mph we were down to going at barely walking pace. And then suddenly the traffic started moving again. And then it all slowed again. Four times we went from national speed limit to standstill and back. Leaving the motorway for the A303 came as a blessed relief.
We stopped at the first services we could find, and had a diet sandwich, diet shandy and snack a jacks (oh yes!), and then hit the road again. and then just as we came over the brow of the hill....
Have you ever driven westwards along the A303? That road was designed by a half-wit. Just as you come over the brow of a hill, you get a glorious view of Stonehenge. And the view is so breathtaking that you can't think of anything but that view. And then suddenly you realise that you are travelling at high speed toward a queue of stationary traffic, and find yourself doing an emergency stop, whilst very conscious that the person behind you is still enthralled with the view in front, and is approaching the back of your car at warp factor nine.
Having successfully avoided writing off my car (it has to be said more through luck than judgement), we parked up in the car park. I must admit that i was surprised at how many people had gone to Stonehenge. I was expecting a few people; maybe a dozen at most. There were hundreds of people, if not thousands. I suppose Stonehenge isn't your average English Heritage attraction.
Being English Heritage members, we got for free. Which was for the best. In all honesty I would have resented paying £7.50 to have got into the place.
The stones were a lot smaller than I was expecting. There was no visitor centre showing exhibits and displays. In retrospect, Stonehenge was something of a disappointment: we'd seen the lot in twenty minutes. If any of my loyal readers are thinking of going to Stonehenge, don't pay to go in. You can see every bit as much from the roadside.
Having planned to spend the entire afternoon at Stonehenge and finding we were all done before 2pm, we were at something of a loose end. A quick browse through the English Heritage manual showed us that old Wardour Castle was not far away. So we activated 'er indoors' sat-nav to find the place.
It has to be said that the sat nav did not live up to expectations. It had us make a bee-line for the narrowest country lane it could find and, having got us several miles into the back of beyond it then announced it had lost it's GPS signal, and then it gave up the ghost. From there on in we were left to our own devices. After I'd got rather cross with the entire concept of satellite aided navigation and we'd rebooted it several times, we found a sign to the castle. The fact that the sign was pointing back the way we'd come just boiled my piss even more.
So, having found the castle (with no thanks to sat-nav technology), we popped into the gift shop to get a crafty Solero. And then we started mooching round the place. The audio guides brought it to life. There was loads to see, the castle, for all that it was in ruins, had four floors that we could explore, a lake, a separate banqueting house, and even a grotto.
It was perhaps somewhat ironic that at one point I found myself idly speculating on the practicalities of how the custodians closed the place up at the evening, because when we decided to pack up and go home we not only found the kiosk was shut up, but that the main gate was locked, and we were locked in. Fortunately being naturally lithe and agile (!) I was able to climb the walls and jump gracefully to freedom. er indoors made a bit of a debbie climbing the wall, but soon we were free, and cursing the jobsworth who'd left us stranded.
By now it was getting on for 5pm, and so we thought we'd best make our way to our B&B. We set off in what was possibly the right direction, ignoring the sat-nav which was making various unhelpful contradictory comments as we went along. We eventually found the village of Fovant, and the Pembroke Arms. And found the Pembroke Arms was locked. Having been locked into the castle, we were now locked out of our digs.
A quick phone call got the landlord to the door, and soon we were ensconced.
Chatting with the landlord we found that the pub didn't actually open for another hour, so we went for a little stroll. Firstly to see the Fovant Badges; military badges carved into the chalk hills. And then we walked into the nearby village and watched the trout swimming in the river. Another hour's exercise before dinner was a good plan.
Exercise built up our appetites: when we got back to the Pembroke Arms, we had dinner. A double rack of ribs, chips, pavlova, and a few pints of local beer.
And then suddenly I realised I was exhausted..... Back to our room where we watched "Bedazzled" and "Pinky and the Brain" (Freeview is a wonderful thing) before having an early night.