Two Weeks in the UK- Part 4 (Gloucester, Bath & Stonehenge)

Leaving behind Oxford and carrying with us a feeling that we could have spent more time there, we started driving towards Cheltenham, a pretty little town at the western edge of the Cotswolds, Oxford
being at the eastern. The journey itself was uneventful save for some pretty
sites along the road and a couple of photography stopovers. We were excited to see the English countryside and more excited to visit the mysterious Stonehenge.
We reached Cheltenham right past dusk, and it had started to
get dark. The goal was to get a room and retire for the night.
But as they say- Man Proposes God Disposes. Indeed if anything can go wrong,
it will, as Murphy’s law predicts. Feeling adventurous, we had come along well
into the English countryside with no place to put our feet up. Normally it
would have been a breeze getting a room, and our choice would have been
chippin’ it in style. If only Mr Murphy agreed. Turns out it was the National
Bank Holiday weekend in the UK, and every little nook was hired. Needless to
say I did get a verbal whack. No points for guessing from whom.
Hopping hotels, driving or walking, asking for a vacant
room, we finally stumbled upon one room at Central Hotel, Gloucester- around 20
kms from Cheltenham via ( ).
It was more than double the average price for a similar
room at most times of the year, but It. Was. The. Last.Room. Available. in a  radius of at least a 100 Kms. So we gleefully booked
it and off we drove. We were tired for sure, but I had found renewed energy at
the prospect of checking out another town in England. Unplanned. Unexplored. I am an expansionist for
We parked at the 24 hour city parking half a km away from
the hotel and checked-in to a fairly large room, and wait, a bathroom where we could actually play Beach Volleyball- water was there, all we needed was sand, and some beachwear. So what that it was a disabled friendly room? Alas, we were to spend just the night there
and no more. The morning was reserved for exploring the new city we had just
discovered and were in. We love the unplanned, as much as the planned.
So we set our feet walking to the city centre, which was
pretty, but a fairly standard criss-crossing walking plazas with large shops and small, coffee
houses and the like, with interspersed old edifices. We had already
encountered similar city centres at Reading earlier and Cheltenham the night before. Standard they may be, but are charming nonetheless. The pleasant weather allows them such nice markets in the open, unlike hot, dusty India where closed structure malls and air-conditioning rule the roost. 
We were looking for the Cathedral I had read about the night before. And boy, it is exquisitely grand. Having clicked the
customary pictures of the front, which is Gothic in appearance with high
pointed arches and spires kissing the clouds and an expanse rivalling that of River
Severn near which it stands, it was from another world. Probably that’s why
three Harry Potter movies have been shot here.
First founded in 678 AD, the present structure was built between 1089-1499 AD. It still stands proud with its 225 ft central
tower topped with four delicate pinnacles, overlooking south central England. 
The Gloucester Cathedral
went inside while a service was going on. We were very politely asked to wait
inside or join the service, or we could have a look at the Cloisters. We went
on to see the cloisters which were long slightly dark hallways or passages used
by monks for study and writing, in the days of yore. These had  beautiful Painted Windows and Perpendicular Vault Roofs above, radiating the notion of a calm sky looking out for you while
you look up or within, pondering over questions of existence- material or mystical.
Here are a few snaps of the Cathedral- the facade, the interiors, and the serene courtyard.
One of the Cloisters with Perpendicular Vaulting
The Central Nave overlooking the C




Inner courtyard of the Cathedral



Later we participated in the service at the very end; it was
peaceful. Feeling great at having unearthed a gem, we set sail towards Bath,
admiring even more of the Cotswolds enroute.


“They arrived in Bath. Catherine was all
eager delight; her eyes were here, there, and everywhere.’

Jane Austen in her Novel Northanger Abbey
Jane Austen lived in Bath from
1700-1706. Through the protagonist in her novel set in Bath, it’s widely
believed she was relaying her own feelings. And she was spot on. When you arrive
at Bath, your eyes are here, there, everywhere. It’s the prettiest town I saw
in all of the UK. Such romance in a Georgian town- I could have been in Venice
sans water.
Bath Abbey
The World Heritage City of Bath,
as the name suggests is built around the site of Roman Bath first built about 60 AD. The current building built around the main Bath & the adjoining Bath
Abbey in the city centre were constructed around the 12th century
and partly rebuilt in the 16th. Legends of curative
properties soon began circulating, and Bath was soon hosting hordes of English
and Europeans as a famous Spa town.


As we were entering Bath from the north, we could see its
Golden expanse. It was like a whiff of fresh air in a moonlit night. Bright
golden was the town, with green hills around, like a singular feather of
the peacock. In fact the town is the feather of the peacock, and millions of
tourists that visit it, peacocks themselves, dancing about and around, be it sunny or
rain running from heavens to ground.
Parking at Bath ( There are two major
parking lots in the city- one for long term parking (over 24 hours), and one
for short term for less than 24 hours parking. We moved ahead for the latter,
and by god’s grace, it was just a stone’s throw distance before the city centre
underneath Waitrose Supermarket, with 551 parking spaces. It couldn’t have been
more convenient. Payment at this parking lot was without human intervention.
When back, we had to go to a machine, enter the change at 2 Pounds for the
first two hours and 2 pounds for every hour thereafter, get a token and put the
same in the receiver right before the boom barrier.
First view of Bath up close
Emerging out of the parking, we were transported to a
bygone world full of happy hippies, street-charmers, old cafes and shops
selling junk and funk.

Streets of Joy
Shutter happy as we always are, we kept going in circles around the town, street upon street, upon the bridge upon the Avon, overlooking the county ground. The ground had a cricket match going on, in whites. And there I ticked another item from the laundry list- watching Cricket in England, even though from a distance from up above on the bridge.



The river Avon itself is charming, with steps and
walkways on both sides, a small man-made step waterfall in the middle, swans and
birds galore and boats/river cruises plying ferrying shrieking, drinking or
clicking tourists. We had authentic English handmade ice-cream walking along
the banks.



The Royal Bath facade in the background



A little further up was
the Royal Crescent-a row of 30 terraced houses in a sweeping crescent shape.
Built in late 18th century, it still houses people, with a large
lawn in the front, cars parked on the sides of the lawn and overlooking a
valley. You can’t live at a better place.


The Royal Crescent
Last stop of the day was to be the famous Stonehenge.
So we had to leave behind Bath, promising that we will be back there some day.
It took us a little over an hour to reach the Stonehenge, but by then it was
6.30 and entry to the park enclosing the structures was already closed at 6.
Slightly disappointed, we asked the guard if it could be seen from the road. He
said yes, and with renewed hope, we drove back along the perimeter of the park. 
We saw the Stonehenge as seen in pictures as a row of giant standing
stones(couldn’t figure the actual circular arrangement from the distance).
Impressive-yes; bewildering-No. Enchanting- Yes. They are a testimony to the
ways ancient humans developed, probably worshipped, and their determination in
bringing huge chunks of stone to those flat-lands, arranging them in a peculiar
fashion, with certain stone pieces precariously positioned above others, which
haven’t fallen off ever in the millennia of existence as it is.
We signed off for the day, back at Reading. Having
dropped the car at Europcar, we took the train to London, expectantly waiting
for the Notting Hill Carnival. We had never seen a Carnival in person. It sure
was going to be am overdose of fun. More on that in the next post.
Do watch this space.

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