Only 24 hours to spend in London; what should I see...? London Advice: British English
Get acquainted with the English you'll hear in London... History: A century of London on film
Video clips starring London, from the 1890s to the 1980s... Music: Reggae & Ska in London
Imported from Jamaica, Reggae and Ska took root in London... Buildings: London's tallest buildings
After years of stasis, London is building upwards. Main ones here... Blog Highlights: Great London Eccentrics
The human mole, Stanley Green & the Flying Pieman of Holborn Hill... Who Are Londoners?: Second World War
1940-42, London suffered sustained bombing during the Blitz... Art & Culture: The British Museum
A trip to London minus the British Museum, is a partial trip... Hidden London: Brockwell Lido
For several weeks a year, London temperatures are smoking. Cool in the pool...
Although Stonehenge was started before Avebury, it was a major earthworks with a bank. Some 500 years before stones were transported to Stonehenge, they were collected and erected at Avebury. The first phase began around 2,600 BC and involved erecting an enormous henge - huge ditches with the spoil piled into banks. These were dug using antlers and cattle shoulder bones. Once this back-breaking phase was complete, stones were selected from the nearby Marlborough Downs.
Some, such as the Swindon Stone weigh fifty tons. Huge teams would have been needed to attach the leather straps and 'rollers' created from rounded logs. In addition and something which is little mentioned is the cost of the effort. In early farming communities, it was and is essential to obtain food at a lower cost to the energy expended in getting it. The amount of sustained effort required to build these monuments would have taken vital workers away from agricultural efforts and put them into calorie-sapping, never-ending heavy lifting and hauling. It's this aspect of their construction which interests me most. Their will and desire to create enormous monuments (like the nearby long barrow at West Kennet, and the jaw-dropping Silbury Hill) is difficult to comprehend when you consider that they were boring into chalk with antlers and bones. It would take hours of effort to make a small indentation and none of it was putting food on the table. I understand that farming improvements and the introduction of pottery and food storage techniques allowed greater freedoms, but these were brave and risky undertakings.
The stone circle at Stonehenge is approximately 2.5 hours from London and a popular day-trip for many visitors . This is a brief look at its history and theories about why it's there. It's one of the UK's premier monuments, but has come under sustained criticism for the way it's portrayed and presented to the public. The plans to divert the nearby main road (A303) away from the site, were shelved after costs escalated dramatically to £450m.
There is a related article about the henge at Avebury which is nearby and although I would never discourage visitors from seeing Stonehenge, there is something unseemly about the way the experience is delivered. For me personally, Avebury is more unusual, older, it's free, and you can touch it. If you make the trek out to Stonehenge, try and fit Avebury in too - it's one of the most spectacular monuments in the UK.
Truro is a 4 hour train ride from Paddington in West London. For some, that will simply be too far to consider, but if you're enjoying your trip to London and want to experience the UK from the other end of the spectrum, then a trip to Cornwall can be an eye-opening contrast.
London is pacey, people will streak past you, tutting, no matter how fast you move around stations, but Cornwall couldn't be more different. Better to allow extra time when getting to destinations, as people are inclined to engage you in conversation, especially if they've never seen you before. The automatic and initial 'big city' reaction to this, can be snorting derision. But this eventually dissolves after a day or two, and a real affection for the different pace of life replaces it. I can't promise the weather will be good, but when it is, the local scenery is hard to beat. It's worth noting too, that 'Devon and Cornwall' (the two neighbouring counties are often lumped together - much to the chagrin of one another) is the most popular holiday destination for Brits, despite jetting abroad being an option for the last 30 years.
HistoryCornwall (or 'Kernow' to the Cornish) used to be a separate kingdom in its own right, with its own language and there's still a minority who lament its inclusion in England and the UK. You'll also see the Cornish flag (of Saint Pirran - a white cross on a black background) stuck to the back of local cars. To be fair though, most of these are on cars belonging to people who've retired here, and actually hail from Redcar, or Nuneaton. Cornwall was also the most mineral-rich area of mainland Britain, blessed with significant deposits of Copper and especially Tin, but both of these were exhausted by the 1970s and Cornwall's mining heritage went into inevitable decline. It's still a major source of China Clay, which is the UK's second largest export, being used in everything from toothpaste to magazines (it's the additive which makes glossy magazines, 'glossy'). Far and away the largest industry and employer in the county however, is tourism.
Oxford is home to the University which bears its name. Along with Cambridge, the two universities are the oldest in the English-speaking world, with Oxford being founded first - in the late 11th century. Cambridge was formed as an offshoot by disenfranchised Oxford students, who left after a dispute with townsfolk in 1209. The two are closely linked (famously by their 'boat race' rivalry) and top the performance tables for universities in the United Kingdom - sometimes referred to as 'Oxbridge' collectively.