Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Great Day Near Swindon

IMG_1586This morning, I had a spectacular breakfast from the B&B lady (cottled eggs, back bacon, fruit salad, hash brown, and toast with local comb honey) and went on my way. I doddered around Devises for a bit, stopping to get some batteries (my battery charger broke!), and in 'Famous Shambles Antique Market,' in which I purchased two pipes for a scandalously low price.  I then took the bus to Swindon, where I was picked up by my first Couchsurfer: MacCauley. When he picked me up, I was still visibly exhausted and a bit sick. In fact, he told me later that he thought that I might have 'had too much of a good time at Stonehenge.' But after a refreshing shower, I perked up immensely and he took time out of his day to taxi me to some great places in the area. First, he took me to see the Uffington White Horse, a huge Neolithic monument near the highest point in Oxfordshire. He told me that up till about seven years ago, all of the local villagers would come up to the Uffington Horse, re-chalk it, roll cheeses down the hill, and have a gigantic festival on the nearby Iron-Age hillfort. Industrialization, however, caused all of the villagers to move to Swindon, so now the festival is completely gone, which is very sad. In the valley under the horse, there is a hill with a very interesting legend (although it is not factually true at all). The hill is called St. George's mound, or Dragon Hill, so named because it is the traditional site of St. George's slaying of the Dragon. There is a half-moon shape of chalk on the apex of the hill, which you can see below, where it is said that the dragon bled, and now no plants will grow there. The valley itself is said to be where the dragon lived.
After we saw those great things, MacCauley took me walking down the oldest known road in Europe -- Ridgeway. People have been using that road for 4,000 years or more by now, which, as he said, is quite humbling indeed. Along the road, we made a detour for a long barrow, where there was not only a rich cultural background, but a practicing Neo-pagan (Heathan) performing a little personal reverence to the people buried here. Needless to say, I took the oppurtunity to interview he and his wife, and that was quite nice.
Next, my intrepid couchsurfing friend and I found a little copse (private grove) where rituals had taken place, the pictures of which you will see below. We walked up the path, got in the car, visited a little pub called the Trout Inn (on the Thames river, no less!), and saw a 'tithe barn,' where peasants would put their lord's share of the crop. Then we went through picturesque village after idyllic hamlet until we were home again, where I tried smoking one of my new pipes, and he cooked a delicious curry. All in all, it has been a downright incredible day.
Tomorrow I will be browsing around in the famous antique shops of nearby Lechlade, and will get a bus from there to Oxford. Only two days until I meet Roger Scruton! There are, of course, many, many reasons I want to go to Oxford, but Scruton is chief among them, frankly.
Hope you enjoy the pictures below...

Uffington White Horse's head

The highest point in Oxfordshire

St. George's Mount, the legendary location of the slain dragon
The edge of the hillfort. Rolling cheeses down it seems fun!




The Neo-Pagan honoring the ancestors associated with the land

The Barrow, or Wayland's Smithy

Looking back to White Horse Vale from the mouth of the grove... Ridgeway stretching back in both distance and time.

The little grove we found

An arrangement of rocks left by a Neo-Pagan to honor Mother Earth  (Note the hard-to-see spiral pattern). It had a stick of incense next to it, half burned.