The next morning we left for Oxford and Bath, with more sightseeing and narrative by Louise on the long bus ride out of London.
We arrived in Oxford to a beautiful sunny day and set out on our guided walking tour of the historic university city. Dating from the 11th century, Oxford University is the oldest in the English-speaking world. It is comprised of over 30 different residential colleges spread throughout the city, most of which offer the same courses. Iconic architecture abounds. The Sheldonian Theatre designed by Christopher Wren was built from 1664 to 1669. The Radcliffe Camera built in the early 1700s was England’s first circular library. Along with the Codrington it is part of the Bodleian Library which dates from 1602 and houses 13 million books. The early 20th century Bridge of Sighs connects sections of Hertford College and is reminiscent of its namesake bridge in Venice.
Oxford is also known for its many famous authors. After the guided tour we were free to wander around the town. We had lunch at the covered market and then walked to both the Eagle and Child and the Lamb and Flag pubs where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien would meet with fellow authors to discuss their latest writings.
Our next stop was the city of Bath and our day started with a walk to the Roman Baths. This was originally the site of a Celtic shrine to the goddess Sulis for the hot water (150 to 200 degrees F) spring that flows from the ground. By 70 AD the occupying Romans had built a temple, and they developed a grand bathing complex over the next 300 years. The baths were redeveloped several times over the centuries, with the current buildings dating from the 1700s. The original Roman buildings were destroyed in the sixth century, but excavations in the late 1700s recovered 24,000 artifacts including 12,000 Roman coins. Many of these are now on display in the well-designed museum.
After lunch we departed for Stonehenge. On the way we passed the 180-feet tall Westbury White Horse, a chalk painting on the distant hillside.
Both mysterious and beautiful, this prehistoric Stonehenge has puzzled archaeologists for centuries. No-one really knows why or how it was built, or how the stones weighing up to 40 tons each were transported from their various sources 25 to 200 miles away, some 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. On the day we visited the weather ranged intermittently from dull overcast to bright sunshine with heavy rainstorms passing nearby, all adding to the mystique. As we circumnavigated the structure the shapes, patterns and shadows of the giant slabs of granite were constantly changing.