Friday, November 04, 2005

Age of Steam, prehistoric, Age of Sail

The day after Stonehenge, we decided to go to STEAM, a train museum in Swindon. Swindon is almost directly north of Salisbury, but we wanted to take the train, so we made two sides of a big triangle out to Bath and back to Swindon. This was kinda fun, taking the train for a little jaunt. And we got there and saw this locomotive on a flatbed truck! Imagine the glee amongst the 8-year-olds! Who's ever seen a locomotive on a truck!??
And that was just the beginning. This museum is built in the old GWR yard, where for more than a hundred years everything train-like was made. They made the steel for the engines, the brass handles and the upholstered cushions. There were 12,000 people working there at once! They made an engine named Mary, named for the boss's wife, and engines with 2-meter driving wheels. It was quite wild, with things to climb on and levers to pull, and we even got to walk under a train on the rails.
When it was time to head back, we decided to stop in Bath to look around for a bit and have dinner, and somehow we found ourselves taking a bus tour. We saw all the nice buildings, and on the last leg of the tour, passed the Postal Museum!
What a dummy, I'd never even thought of it! But there it was, a little storefront full of red things (models of post boxes and telephone boxes and mail trucks and all), and the last visitors leaving as the woman locked the door... "Bring the kids back tomorrow," she called, "It's all free." Argh. Well, I know where it is now, anyways!
There was some musical event going on in the abbey so we couldn't see that either! We had dinner and trained back to Salisbury.

The next day we went to Avebury. If you have a map, you will see that Avebury (that group of stones near Marlborough) is quite close to Swindon, north of Salisbury. One idea had been to see both in the same day on the bus, but for whatever reason, we didn't do it that way. So after our roundabout train ride (Bath is off the map, through Chippenham), we took the bus to Avebury.

It took forever! Every little town on that route has a bus stop, and so the 25 mile trip took 2 hours. And all the while, you can hear the BOOOM.......BOOOOM...... of the army practising with their big guns on Salisbury plain! There were signs at the side of the road warning of slow tanks crossing! But we eventually got there. The stones make a huge circle, so it's hard to get a picture that shows it all unless you are in an airplane... There were sheep keeping the grass neat, but Elaine, getting crabbier and more miserable day by day, complained that the field was too pooey and demanded to be carried again! The one excellent thing for the kids was the kites! We tied yarn (brought along for spool-knitting on trains) to plastic shopping bags, and the kids were endlessly amused. Arthur let go of his once and had to climb down into the encircling ditch to get it! They got to explain to all passers-by what they were doing, they got to disentangle string from thorn bushes -- it was a great idea!
We walked around the circle, went to the museum, which is in an old thatched barn with bats in the thatch, and walked out to Silbury Hill, a totally manufactured prehistoric hill sticking up out of the plain. There have been holes dug in the hill and nothing has been found inside it. No tomb, no buried treasure, just a hill. After all our exertions, we had an excellent plowman's lunch (for afternoon snack!) at the pub and headed back on our epic bus ride!

One rainy day, our B&B host had suggested going to Portsmouth. We had never thought of this, not realising how easy it is to get places on the train. The distances are not very great, and an hour on the train is so much better than any distance on the bus! So on our last day, we decided to see what was there. On our way, we passed the hugest container port we'd ever seen, with big gantry cranes and piles and piles of containers stacked up over acres, waiting for a ship or a train to take them somewhere. It was another thrill for the machine guys, lemme tell you! And this is what was awaiting us! At the historic Portsmouth dock, they have the remains of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's ship, and they have the Warrior, an iron-clad ship with both sails and a steam engine, and this baby, the Victory, the ship on which Lord Nelson died in the battle of Trafalgar! How circular, eh? We start in Trafalgar Square and end on Nelson's ship. Nice. This is still a ship in the British Navy, with a captain and crew, though I think it must be a rather cushy position, since the ship is bolted into drydock and is used mainly for large dinners in the captain's quarters. The queen had been aboard a few days earlier to celebrate the big anniversary! They've got all the cannon in position, and all the ropes hanging from the yardarms (or whatever they're called) and it's all beautifully kept. There's a little plaque on the deck to mark where Nelson fell, shot by a Spaniard, I believe. The anchor weighs 4 tons, it takes 8 men to hold the wheel in heavy weather, they carried 2 tons of butter (the last of which was rancid by the time they got to it) and there are 23 miles of ropes. Or was it 27? Anyways, lots of ropes. The kids enjoyed themselves, and Elaine consented to walk, as her head was at risk of bumping on those narrow, steep stairs!
Another trial to find some food, and we ended up at a Pizza Hut. They use some computer communications between the waiters and the cook, and our order went down the pipe just as they were changing the paper in the printer, so it never was received in the kitchen. When they finally realised that we had been sitting there for an hour with no food, they gave us our dinner for free, which was nice, but what a schmozzle...

Finally we bid farewell to the Holmhurst B&B, home to fried bread and other yummies, we got on the train for London and home. We meant to stop again in London for some fun, but we were all pooped out. Another quick look at the Embankment, underground to King's Cross, and home to bed.

And now I have to clean up the house, do laundry, wash dishes, get groceries and maybe even buy a new pair of shoes because I have to go out to a nice dinner on Sunday, all before 3 pm. I'll report in when Auntie Mary and Gramma Dee arrive!

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