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Holiday notes: Exeter and Stonehenge

On our way back to London yesterday from our holiday in South Devon we planned to make two stops, Exeter and Stonehenge. The latter didn’t work as planned but we stopped in Exeter for lunch, at a pub within sight of the cathedral. None of us had been to the city before. Every visit to an unfamiliar cathedral in the UK prompts thoughts and memories of similar visits in my past. There haven’t been many. I’ll write about them some other time, with thoughts about the ones I haven’t visited, like Canterbury and Coventry. [I did, three months later, in this piece.]

We didn’t pay the £30 or more in admission charges it costs for a family of four to have a good look around the building. We didn’t have time to do it justice and neither of the children was especially interested. We walked through enough of the cathedral to get a sense of it, on the way to the gift shop, and spent some money there instead. I reminded my children, as I did in York many years ago, that this used to a Catholic place of worship. It was built before there was a Church of England, before there was any form Protestantism.

We sat by the river for a while before heading eastwards towards London and then got stuck in traffic throughout the afternoon and early evening. We arrived at Stonehenge around 8pm, too late to book an official visit to the ancient monument. You can no longer park beside it and walk around freely, as you could when I was a child. These days you take a shuttle bus from the visitor centre, and the last one leaves before 8pm. We drove to the closest viewing point, maybe 500 yards away, and saw the stones from there. It’s close enough to London to make a day-trip of it sometime but I have only ever seen Stonehenge on the way to or from somewhere else. My first trip there was at the age of 12, on the way down to Dartmouth. It forms one of my “1000 Memories”, and is duplicated here.

Stonehenge (from “1000 Memories”)

We drove to Dartmouth for a holiday. It was the only time the five of us stayed anywhere in England together apart from our home. On the way down we stopped at Stonehenge. It was close to the road so it didn’t delay our journey for long. It was summer but there was no sun. There was no rain either, just thick clouds overhead. The stones looked smaller than I expected. Some of them had graffiti on them, in black marker pen. Who would do that? Who would scrawl their name on ancient stones? There was a wire fence around the outside of the monument. We only stayed for a few minutes, then got back in the car and drove on towards Dartmouth.



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