Saturday, June 25, 2011

2011 Tour - Day 7: Avebury and Salisbury

Happy Birthday to chaperone Pam Nehring and 8-year-old twins Mathew and William Baldridge! Pam is much loved, and she was celebrated with hugs and song repeatedly throughout the day.

Morning stories on the bus were indicative of the generosity of our host families. They have all opened their hearts and homes to us in ways that give us memories to cherish. Carly and Laura told a heart-warming story about their host named Shirley whose husband is deceased. She wanted to give the girls a sum of 20 pounds in spending money, but the girls resisted, expressing sincere appreciation for Shirley having attended the concert. Shirley insisted they take her gift, saying 10 pounds were from her and 10 pounds were from her beloved husband. The girls finally accepted and passed this most unexpected yet generous gift to Walt for the tour.

Some of our youth enjoyed a typical English breakfast and described the meal for the rest of us tourists on the bus. They had eggs sunny-side up, sausages, English bacon, baked beans, tomatoes, and tea. Another common breakfast, that is easier on the waistline, is cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast, and tea or juice.

Cheltanham is on the fringe of the Cotswolds, and our drive out took us past green pastures of peaceful sheep grazing among Queen Anne's Lace and red poppies. We arrived at the World Heritage Site of Avebury Henge where we wandered through fields of enormous vertical boulders forming a rough circle amid ditches and mounds. Henge monuments found at Avebury are the best known remains of the Neolithic period in Britain, around 2500 BC. Archeological studies show this was an agrarian civilization with some of the first domesticated animals in the British Isles.

Even older than more-famous Stonehenge and 16 times larger, the Avebury ring of stones is the oldest known ring in the world. The circles of massive stones are believed to have been central to celestial worship, which continues for the Druids today. Had we visited Avebury just three days earlier on the summer solstice, we would have been among thousands of people who gathered to celebrate the official beginning of summer.

On our next stop, we went to the town of Salisbury to visit the impressive cathedral there. Salisbury Cathedral features England's tallest spire at 404 feet and the country's largest cathedral green. The enormous grassy field surrounding the cathedral makes this Gothic wonder appear even larger than it is. Our chaperones on food duty arranged for a lunch of Subway sandwiches and crisps (potato chips) as a picnic on the green. The crisps were unusual flavors - Steak & Onion, Bacon, Roasted Chicken, and simply Ready Salted. With potato chips in such odd flavors, the Harry Potter "Bertie Bots Every Flavour Beans" don't seem so far-fetched.

We had a fabulous tour of Salisbury Cathedral with our large number divided into color groups for the guided walk. While many cathedrals took hundreds of years to complete, Salisbury Cathedral took a mere 38 years to build (1220 - 1258). Since the limestone structure was built in only a few decades, which is unique to English churches, the style is uniform and consistent throughout. The octagonal spire tilts 2.5 feet due to a heavy bell tower added about 100 years after the cathedral was built (since reinforced). The foundation rests on a soggy plain, and our guide showed us with a dipstick that the water table is only four feet below the surface. The water is a forgiving base and is surprisingly essential to keep the building from crumbling. As we toured the cathedral, we saw several fresh flower arrangements in pinks and blues that were for a wedding the next day. We learned that anyone is eligible to be married in this grand church, but wealth, social status, and being from the local community would certainly be in your favor.

Salisbury Cathedral survived World War II for a disconcerting reason. The town held no particular value, but more than that, the tall spire was used as a landmark by German bombers to help them navigate to better targets. We were present for the hourly prayer, which ended with the Lord's Prayer said in unison throughout the cathedral. Thanks be to God for this holy site and the opportunity to pray in such an inspiring place!

Our last stop on the tour was an original of the Magna Carta signed in 1215, establishing basic rights for all people in England. Scribed in black ink on vellum, this document is as important to the English as the Constitution is to Americans.

We arrived at High Cross Church in Camberly for our evening concert. After a short rehearsal, we enjoyed a traditional dinner of bangers and mash in their great hall. The meal consisted of English sausages, mashed potatoes with gravy, and peas. Our tasty dessert was black currant cheesecake and strawberry cheesecake. The dinner was lovingly prepared for us and we were blessed to have received such a warm welcome.

The youth performance this evening had the highest attendance of a concert thus far on tour. High Cross Church is quite integrated with the surrounding community, and the church is large enough to have its own gift shop. Our Charles Wesley Singers performed here on their first trip abroad in 1993 and again in 1999. In spirit, our visit here felt a bit like coming home. This evening's concert had several highlights. The choir sang a new number called "Bright Morning Stars," a powerfully moving Appalachian tune with a solo by Cameron. The Haydn mass, the "Yorkshire Ballad," and "Omnia Sol" were called out by a church spokeswoman as especially meaningful. At the end of the program, host families were quickly assigned, and off we went to spend the night in our new homes.

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  1. Well I know my TJ ate well, because he had cheesecake his favorite meal. LOL

  2. Pam Richardson ColbornJune 27, 2011 at 8:03 AM

    Gooood Morning Tour! Ok... now it is starting to feel like you have been gone a REALLY LONG TIME. Enjoy your last couple of days... then COME HOME! You are missed! Hugs to you all... and alittle extra lovin' to Carly. <3