Well, for bank holiday weekend, my boyfriend and I were contemplating going somewhere that might be warmish, like Rome, but as we left it until a couple of weeks beforehand, and flights were mega-expensive, we ended up just road tripping it out to the Cotswolds and surrounding areas. We were anticipating that it might have got a bit warmer at this point, but obviously we were wrong. Nonetheless, I got loads of good museuming in, so I’ll be posting about it all week. Installment one covers the first day-primarily Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, as you can tell from the title.
Anytime I mention going somewhere that involves nature in any capacity, it is almost always because it was my boyfriend’s idea. I am not at all a fan of the outdoors, particularly if cold weather (or alternatively, hot weather), hiking, or muddy fields are involved. Typically any visit to the English countryside involves all three, so I avoid it as much as possible. But I do drag the poor boy to so many places that I’m sure he doesn’t share my level of interest in, so sometimes it’s only fair that I suffer through the perils of nature. Thus I found myself at the Avebury Stone Circle of a Friday morning. The man at the carpark made sure to tell us that the site closed at 6:30, which I thought was a bit rich, as we arrived around 11. Does anyone honestly spend 7 and a half hours there? Since the circle is just in a random field, I suppose the National Trust felt they couldn’t get away with charging admission (though that doesn’t stop them at Stonehenge), so they get around that by charging 5 quid to use the parking lot. My opinion of National Trust sites is that whilst I feel they do important work with conservation, their properties are generally middling at best. They’re good for a rather boring day out, but you won’t find yourself wowed. The Avebury Stone Circle was no exception.
I regretted agreeing to come as soon as I stepped out of the car and realised the temperature couldn’t have been much above freezing, and was accompanied by the sort of icy wind that manages to whistle through any kind of hat you might be wearing. Also, I have a strange aversion to scarves, so my neck completely froze. Discomforts aside, the stones were still not terribly thrilling. I’ve been to Stonehenge on the summer solstice, when you’re allowed to walk right up to the stones (and subsequently caught the worst cold of my life after trying to sleep in the backseat of a car without blankets, dressed stupidly in a long skirt and thin sweater because it was my first summer here, and I made the mistake of thinking summer nights here would be warm, like summer nights in Ohio, unaware it would dip down to single digits (in Celsius).), and these stones seemed quite a bit smaller. Probably, I’m really not a judge of stones (though my boyfriend is a geologist, and he seemed suitably impressed with Avebury). To me, it just looked like a bunch of moderately large rocks plopped down in the middle of some village. Rocks that inexplicably had a chalk path running through them, which naturally, was wet, so that my new wellies got a sad, chalky christening. They also had a museum of sorts inside a barn, but they charged an extra fiver to go inside, and when I peered in, it just looked like a load of posters, so we skipped it. Essentially, I spent an hour alternating between bitching about the cold and my boots, and repeating, “Now, you see the magic of the rocks,” in my best shaman from Temple of Doom voice. Moral of the story: you can’t take me anywhere that doesn’t involve central heating, because I am an annoying pain in the ass.
Moving on… We then headed up to Dr. Jenner’s House in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, which being largely indoors, and related to medicine, was far more my cup of tea. It was quite crowded when we got there, since we had inadvertently arrived on a “Free Friday,” which was apparently a new idea they were trying out. I would have had no issue with paying the admission, since I’d wanted to visit it for a while, but free entry was a nice bonus.
I really really wanted to love Dr. Jenner’s House, since it was a cute little cottage, smallpox is one of my favourite diseases (to learn about, obviously, not to have), and I like Dr. Jenner (though not as much as I love Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, but Ol’ Eddie couldn’t hope to compete with her Turkish Embassy letters), but I thought it was just OK. The ground floor had a room full of cases of Jenner’s stuff, and told you all about his work with smallpox, and I thought that was great, so my hopes were high for the rest of the museum. Behind it, they had preserved his study, which looked very much how I would want my study to look (only mine would have more books, since they aren’t exorbitantly expensive like in Jenner’s day), so still good going. However, the upstairs was kind of a letdown. They basically wasted two entire rooms by putting up posters about immunology around them. The posters were certainly informative, but it was way more science than I could comfortably take in at once, and I felt like it would have been much better if they had just turned the info in the posters into one of those laminated pages they had hanging around the room, or maybe a little booklet people could buy in the gift shop. I think most people who come to the Jenner House want to learn more about how the man lived, so they could have either restored the rooms, or just had more facts about his life in there, as biographical details seemed strangely lacking in the museum, save for a passing mention about his passion for hedgehogs. The third room was devoted to telling the story of the eradication of smallpox, which was fine, since it’s an important story, but again, it seemed strangely impersonal. In one of the other rooms, they had many random fact sheets laid out on a big table, and one of them featured the memories of a woman who had smallpox in her youth. Now, that was fascinating, and I wondered why they couldn’t have included more of that sort of thing in the museum.
Dr. Jenner’s House also included his garden, which, excitingly, was home to the “Temple of Vaccinia,” where he vaccinated townsfolk, and likely performed the first vaccination. It was awesome to be able to go inside, even if it was cold and dank. That was pretty much all there was to his house, and I left feeling sort of glad that we didn’t have to pay admission. Not because I don’t believe they need the support, but I think what they’re charging relative to what they actually offer is way out of line. Normal entry is £9, but I think a more fair price would be half that. I really don’t want to begrudge them the money, because I’m sure they need it, but I think they need to get some better exhibits in there if they want to encourage repeat visitors.
Last up, if anyone has actually managed to make it to the end of this massive essay, was a brief detour into Bristol to see the Clifton Suspension Bridge (again, boyfriend suggestion). We first stopped by the Young Ones house and the Kebab and Calculator, since I used to love the Young Ones, but we literally just stopped and took a picture, as it is just a normal house. I was actually quite surprised by how nice Clifton was, which I don’t mean at all in an insulting way; it’s just that I was really into punk as a teenager, and I used to watch UK/DK all the time, so I pictured Bristol as being this massive punk hangout that was full of grimy squats and people with stupid hair going to shows and then sitting around drinking K cider all day. When in actuality, Clifton was one of the most pleasant bits of a city I’ve seen in Britain, full of huge houses, gorgeous views, and a nice little shopping district.
‘The bridge was pretty alright too I guess. It was still cold outside, but at least a city isn’t really nature, as such, and offered the prospects of food and ice cream, so I wasn’t nearly as cranky about it as I was about Avebury. The gorge was pretty, even if you had to do a long uphill slog to see it, and there was a cool little tower thing on top the hill that offered a camera obscura and cave that sounded like total tourist traps (of which we unfortunately didn’t partake, as we were out of cash. Besides, we’ve been to Camera Obscura in Edinburgh, and you couldn’t really see much except blurry shadows, so I didn’t think this one would be any better.). I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see the Glenside Museum, which is about psychiatric medicine, and includes wax models, but it was it’s only open on Fridays (and I think Wednesdays?) from 10-12:30, so we would have had to left at some insanely early time in the morning to have made it there in time. I guess it’ll give me a good excuse to come back to Bristol and try out this trendy looking little pizza place we saw as well. We then headed up to Tetbury, where we would be spending the night, where I’ll continue in part 2.
Scores, (though I really, really doubt anyone has made it this far) 1/5 for Avebury, because it was expensive for some stones, and I hate being outside (it’s my blog, I can make my ratings system this subjective), and 2/5 for Jenner’s House (please, please get some more exhibits! I want so much to love you, Dr. Jenner’s House!).