Day Eight – Hey Where’s The Steering Wheel, Yes It’s DIESEL, The New Vaudeville Band Is Here Somewhere, Diver Bill Saves The Day, You’re Early, Cloisters With Food, What…Another Magna Carta, Tower Of Power, Church Of Doom, Plopping our Buttocks At The Buttock, Now That’s A Bad Hand, Without A Kir In The World, Sunset Dinner and Cathedral Under The Stars
Our day of reckoning was finally upon us. Today was the day we were to pick up our rental car. We were picked up at the Riverbank Park Plaza Hotel at 7:30 a.m. by our affable and chatty Just Airports driver (originally from Pakistan…the guy was a hoot), and headed to the Avis car rental facility at Heathrow.
Soon, our lives would be turned upside down (or at least the wrong way). Kim paid some extra quids to be the “other” driver, and once outside, he said, “Get behind the steering wheel.” I instinctively got into the left side of the car and said, “Hey, where’s the steering wheel?” I was on the passenger side.
Truth be told, although I have been the primary driver on all of our other European escapades (and rather anal about it), it was Kim who had experience driving on the “wrong side” of the road. He and Mary have visited Ireland, so discretion being the better part of valor and all that rot, we decided it would be best for Kim to be our driver on this trip. One catastrophe averted…we hoped.
We all saw the huge “DIESEL” sticker on the Audi’s dashboard (where were you in Italy all those years ago?), and it was time to get going. Next of kin notified, and after a few minutes of hesitation, we were on the way as Kim cautiously navigated the first few streets. As we zipped along toward our first destination, I was happy Kim was behind the wheel. Although I’m sure I would not have killed us all (well, fairly sure), I think we all felt better with a “Wrong Way” veteran behind the wheel.
As passengers, we did have one important job (besides the occasional catnaps). When Kim would come to an intersection, we would help remind our driver to go left by yelling, “Go left.”
That way he would hopefully not drive head-on into an oncoming lorry. This worked fairly well for the entire trip, and Kim only threatened to kill us a few times for too many directions coming from the peanut gallery.
Nearing our first destination, I started whistling. That’s because the song in my head was Winchester Cathedral by The New Vaudeville Band. I’m glad to tell you that Winchester Cathedral did not bring us down.
After parking and before entering the cathedral, we walked in to the cute little town of Winchester, grabbed coffee and downed some breakfast pastries. It was market day, and Tracy was quite enamored by Winchester as we meandered up and down the main drag.
Winchester Cathedral cost £7 to enter, but Mary, Kim and I got the old blokes price of £5. Inside the cathedral, a docent, with a quick sense of humor, greeted us. When he found out we were from California, he told us how much he loved The Beach Boys and Jan and Dean. He was dubbed our “Surfer Docent.”
We had also arrived just in time, because docent Jennifer was about to lead a free tour (tours are on the hour except for noon because of high mass). Jennifer, who was British, spent much of her life in Pittsburgh (her husband worked for Price-Waterhouse). She had no insight into the next Academy Award winners, however.
In the crypt we saw Antony Gormley’s sculpture, Sound II, which is a life-size cast of the artist’s body contemplating a bowl held in its hands. I do that each morning with my Wheaties.
The Presbytery of Winchester Cathedral is dominated by the vast Great Screen which acts as a backdrop to the High Altar. It was just as beautiful as advertised. The present figures are 19th century replacements for the ones destroyed in the 1600s during the Reformation.
St. Swithun is probably the best known of the many Bishops of Winchester. He is said to have been so favored by the Lord that he was able to perform miracles even in his own lifetime. He died in 862 and was buried in the graveyard of the Old Minster (precursor of the present Cathedral). After his death, his bones were said to heal the sick and pilgrims flocked to the cathedral in their thousands. Stalls were set up to sell relics and clay models of the parts of the body that required healing. These were then placed in the shrine in the hope of a miracle cure.
The so-called Holy Hole in the Retrochoir (sounds like a Mpnty Python & The Holy Grail bit) is a small doorway apparently leading into a short passage to nowhere. Its purpose is something of a mystery. However, it is generally believed to have been a recess through which pilgrims to St. Swithun’s Shrine could crawl in order to get as close as possible to the great saint.
There were also a couple of statues of “Diver Bill” who is depicted wearing his “old-fashioned diving suit.” William Walker was a famed English diver at the turn of the 20th century. For the better part of six years, he spent six hours a day in his diver’s suit (and in complete darkness) shoring up two sides of Winchester Cathedral. Actually, that sounds like the “worst” of six years.
After the tour, we climbed upstairs to the library and saw two globes circa 1635 that showed California as an island. Hopefully they were not predicting “the big one.”
There are tombs of bishops and cardinals, such as William of Waynflete (above), bishop of Winchester for 40 years during the 1400s, and the more macabre memorial for Richard Foxe, who was a bishop all over the place…including, of course, Winchester.
Cardinal Henry Beaufort was one of the most powerful of the Bishops of Winchester. Beaufort is known for his condemnation of the death of Joan of Arc. After her canonization in 1923, a statue of her was placed opposite his tomb.
All in all, the architecture of Winchester Cathedral was stunning. The stone was imported from the Isle of White.
The entire Nave of Winchester Cathedral was re-vaulted by William of Wykeham when he had this area of the building remodeled in the late 14th century.
Leaving Winchester, it was a relatively short drive to Salisbury. We dropped our bags at our b&b, The Cathedral View (after circling the place for a few minutes while lost). Our host, Steve, was a little surprised to see us as he thought we’d be here closer to 3 than 1:30. He didn’t know we’d have Kim Andretti behind the wheel.
For lunch, he recommended The Cloisters, a cute pub that we had seen as we drove around town looking for our lodging. Steve also provided us with great directions to park our car and gave us a map that he had marked with some Salisbury points of interest.
All the food was good here, from Tracy’s veggie sandwich on ciabatta bread to a couple of salads for Kim and Mary, including Kim’s 10th (I might be exaggerating) Caesar salad of the trip. At about 3 p.m. we arrived for our 3:15 Tower Tour of Salisbury Cathedral. I had purchased these tickets online (£10 apiece) a few months before we left for England. The interior of Salisbury Cathedral was stunning.
We walked around the cathedral waiting for the tour, and I was told an original Magna Carta could be found here. “Another Magna Carta,” I yawned. “You’ve seen three, you’ve almost seen them all (although Steve told us the next morning that this was the best preserved Magna Carta).”
In any event, it was time to climb.
Once again, our guide for a tour was a woman named Jennifer. This Jennifer was a spry, 76-year-old jackrabbit who kept us moving at a rapid pace. She had a much younger couple and the four of us scurrying to keep up with her for two hours on this Tower Tour.
The Salisbury Cathedral Tower Tour ranks as one of the coolest tours we’ve taken in Europe. We learned about the history of the tower as Jennifer led us up and up and up, 332 steps in all, to the top. And guess who added some reinforcements to the cathedral in 1668…none other than workaholic Sir Christopher Wren.
He was summoned from London to strengthen the spire, and in the mid-19th century Sir George Gilbert Scott, a leading Victorian Gothicist, undertook a major program of restoration.
There were many stops along the way to the top so we could learn more about the construction of the cathedral and, more importantly, take a breather. When the bell chimed, it was best you cover your ears (even the Seattle Seahawk fans aren’t that loud).
Looking up at the spire (the tallest in England at 404 feet), Jennifer told us that fire brigade members are required to climb to the top of the spire in order to change lights or anything else the cathedral might need.
Then we walked over to St. Thomas’s Church.
We were there to see a painting Steve told us about, but we were doomed by the lack of lighting in the church. On the Chancel Arch is “The Doom Painting” that depicts The Last Judgment.
We walked to the unusually named Haunch Of Venison (like other pubs have normal names), and planted our haunches down. This pub is listed as one of the most historic interiors in the UK, and it’s where I mustered up some Courage Bitter Dark Beer.
We sat for a while in the Upper House Of Lords Bar to rest our legs and watched while some old man (probably our age) told a lovely young lady the story of “The ghost of the cheating card player.” Unbeknownst to us, until we heard this guy’s ghost story, we didn’t know that we were drinking our beer very near the cheater’s mummified hand that is on display in the room. And I thought my poker hands were bad. The photo is courtesy of The Daily Mail.
Dinner that night would be at the Côte de Brasserie, which is a chain restaurant, but one that had been recommended when we were in London. The other reason we chose it was because by presenting a little piece of paper showing we were staying at the Cathedral View B&B, we would all receive a free Kir Royale…and we all love “free.”
” The Early Evening menu” prices (before 7 p.m.) were still available. “Dear God, we’ve become our parents,” I said. Oh well, the two-course meal was £9.95 and the three-course menu was £11.90, so suddenly we didn’t care that we had become old geezers.
Starting out, we ordered an appetizer of mixed olives marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs (£2.25). I have never been an olive person, but even I enjoyed these. Our entire experience here was great. The wait staff was really good, and the food was, in our opinion, better than the French restaurant we dined at in London. I had a delicious steak, and surprisingly it was not a Salisbury steak. Total cost was £80 (wine can up the price of a meal).
As we strolled back to The Cathedral View, we decided to get a nighttime view of the cathedral that we had climbed just hours before. It was stunning, and we took some photographs.
Tomorrow’s drive would not be long (mileage wise), but we had a lot of places to pack in along the way including a bunch of rocks, an abbey and another cathedral, all before we reached our appointed destination of Bath.
Next: Day Nine – Breakfast Is Served, Rock On, A Trip To See King Arthur, All’s Wells That Ends Wells, Cat’s Meow, The Out-Of-Towners, A Hill of a B&B, We’re Just Wild About Harry, Lawful Assembly and Dinner At “Hall & Oates”