Tuesday, October 13, 2015

-- England, Scones & Stones --

A routine early morning drive through the avenues of Drumcondra and the wet empty lanes of the dew-covered motorway leading to the airport is done again, just hours after leaving the office and the weekend was officially declared.

Ryanair had a combination of flights not to be missed this weekend, and a few queues later, the flight leaves the terminal at the time in which the night gives in for the sunlight of an October Saturday morning.
A short hop across the St. George's Channel means that no onboard service will be performed. In fact, I can't even imagine who would even have time to gulp on breakfast when we start descending as soon as we reach a reasonable altitude?

Outside the plane windows, nothing but white can be seen, as we feel the plane banking left and right and left again before the vibration of the wheels being deployed for landing shakes the cabin.
A clear in the view which lasts a few seconds shows that we are only a few hundred meters above the ground and seconds later, a heavy touchdown is felt.



The plane alights with the small terminal of Bristol Airport, gateway to the Southeastern English countryside and the start of my weekend in this region.

The airport shuttle bus takes me through a sleepy city covered in dense fog and to the red-bricked Temple Meads train station, where commuters seem to slowly start their Saturdays and young coffee shop workers finish their last smokes before catching their train to work whilst middle aged men take mountain bikes in order to start a day of pure cycling in the countryside.
A fifteen-minute journey through the gloomy countryside takes me further South to the idyllic village of Bath Spa, famous for its university, architecture and of course, it's thermal baths which date as far as back as the Roman times.


As it is still not time to check in, I decide to recharge my energies with a luscious English breakfast, (fried bread included, something I will never order again), and indulge on the privilege of wandering around one of the prettiest cities in England when tourists are still asleep.



The thick fog turns every alleyway into an imaginary and dramatic representation of a bygone time in which wealthy Lords and Ladies used to walk around the village speaking in posh accents and preparing for sessions of medicinal baths and sumptuous banquets.
Today, despite the walk being made in a blue hoodie and waving a bridge camera, the magic is still there as I walk through the Great Circus, lined up with yellow granite houses built around a perfectly round square or try to fit the magnificent Royal Crescent into one frame, which due to its size seems to disappear in the fog like a ghost structure.



Fog clears later and the tourists sprawl around the village, despite the season being nearly over. The Gothic lines of the Abbey seem to shine under the autumnal daylight and students enjoy picnics sitting on the green fields of North Parade, caressed by the waters of the River Avon, which forms a narrow valley in which the city extends its layout through.
This makes Bath a city ideal for strolling around up and down (whilst working the legs), taking pictures or just sitting on a bench having tea whilst red squirrels try to steal pieces of food.



The heavy training and work routine of the previous five days and the lack of sleep on the previous night mean that an afternoon nap overextends and turns into a 14-hour sleep, only interrupted by the grumbling of a hungry stomach demanding for some food in the morning.

Rejecting the idea of yet another fried toast, I pick up a cup of strong coffee and a couple of muffins before waiting at Pierrepoint Street to see if a spot on any tour to Stonehenge becomes available.
The tall tour guide nods and confirms the availability of the last place remaining with his thick English accent and the bus leaves only a couple of minutes later.

The efforts of the energetic tour guide of showing us the surroundings are hampered by yet another foggy morning. We drive through the Avon River valley, apparently, and we also drive through the fertile fields of the English countryside, apparently, and so on.

An hour later, we reach the brand new Stonehenge visitor centre and pay the hefty sum of £15 to queue and get bussed to the main site a mile away.
Of course, Stonehenge is only a bunch of stones set in a green naked hill just besides a busy national road, or so it seems when you look at it: a henge with stones on it.



Stonehenge is the sort of place that has been crushed by its own fame, and a place in which the concept of what lies behind is more important than what you have in front of you.

The fact that these massive rocks were transported from places as far as Wales using only human force, mile by mile in a task that took several hundred years, or the fact that astronomic observations were made in order to find the right spot, are some of the reasons why this place is so famous, a thought ringing in my head constantly as I desperately try to cancel out the sound of cars and lorries speeding through the national road only a hundred yards away.

I decide to walk back to the visitors centre through a wide green meadow as the fog gives way to a sunny autumnal day in the English countryside, and we almost immediately return to the village of Bath, where I have a quick bite to eat and catch the train back to Bristol.

A walk from Temple Meads station into the core of the city unveils a peaceful yet modern city in which green areas are plentiful and a Sunday is enjoyed by locals at the picturesque Waterfront, a wharf area bubbling with fresh food stands and street performers.


I grab a map from the tourist office and climb up the busy and steep Park Street, rapidly glancing at the impressive Bristol Cathedral and stopping by Brandon Hill for a grasp of breath and one of the most beautiful views of the city with the company of playful red squirrels.


The rest of the day is spent relaxing in the city until the temperatures drop and the night announces the end of the weekend on the leafy streets of the Bristolian neighborhood of Redmont, as well as my departure back to Ireland, done in between pauses of sleep, bags of Skittles and in a particularly bumpy manner.
A weekend soaking up the iconic landscapes of the English countryside, reachable for the price of a night out in Dublin.