Exploring Wessex: From Neolithic Avebury to Georgian Bath Archaeology Tour

   
 

Exploring Wessex: From Neolithic Avebury to Georgian Bath Archaeology Tour

BY PETER SOMMER TRAVELS
www.petersommer.com

UPDATED

1 week ago

DURATION

7 Days

SEASON

28th June 2020 - 4th July 2020

RATES

GBP 2,895.00 per person

EXPIRES

Jun 20, 2020
Exploring Wessex: From Neolithic Avebury to Georgian Bath Archaeology Tour
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Wessex: close to our home base, and close to our hearts. We invite you to join us and see why - in this tour of a beautiful region of England, which perfectly encapsulates the history and culture of the country. From the ancient chalk downlands of Wiltshire, through the lush tree-clad hills and combes of Gloucestershire to the misty beauty of the Somerset Levels, this is the England of the mind’s eye. We will take you to dramatic cathedrals with soaring spires, serene abbeys, elegant Roman villas and into the deep past of Stone Age England, where it all began.

All of England’s history can be seen in this region replete with World Heritage Sites. We begin with the truly ancient landscape of Wiltshire, which still feels indefinably old, even to those familiar with the ancient world. Through encounters with ridge-top sepulchres, the awe-inspiring great stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury and the strange wonder of Silbury Hill, you will see how humanity passed from the Mesolithic and embedded itself in the landscape in the Neolithic, one of the most dramatic eras in England’s history, and nowhere seen better than here. The depth of our story can be appreciated when even the Celts and Romans arrive only at its middle. Once more, this tour introduces you to some of their finest sites and traces, from the fine mosaics of Britain’s second largest Roman town, through the richly decorated and comfortably heated villa at Chedworth to the pious melding of Roman and British religion in the hot springs of the great shrine at Bath with its strange gorgon-like sculpture.

The castles and holy places of the Middle Ages, and the new Kingdom of England, come into view next. We see the powerful castles of the Marcher Lords at Berkeley, meet saints and see a powerful prelate cast down at Old Sarum, and admire the delicate beauty of Salisbury Cathedral, its renowned spire reaching up in adulation to Heaven.

Finally, we come to the periods of turbulence and transformation that made our own world as the old religion is broken. At Glastonbury we see a beautiful monastery suppressed, leaving romantic ruins and enduring myth. We see the varying fortunes of the great families, as some fall in Civil War and others prosper and build great country houses, ready to enter the refined and genteel world of Georgian elegance and high society in the respectable, elevated beauty of Bath.

All of this accompanied by some fine dining, visits to traditional English pubs, locally brewed ales and ciders and tastes of some of the world famous specialities of the region. At night we stay firstly in a beautiful Italianate-style Victorian country house set in wonderful gardens in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside before heading to Bath and an elegant mansion house hotel on the edge of one of the city centre parks and only minutes away from some of Bath’s most famous sights.

From green fields with enigmatic henges, outposts of Roman civilisation in wooded valleys, emblems of Norman power and Georgian taste, there is no finer place to begin your exploration of England’s long and inspiring history.

ADDITION RATE INFORMATION

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Hotel Single Supplement: £400

ITINERARY

Day 1:
Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom
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Arrivals and transfer to our hotel.

Day 2:
Stonehenge, England, United Kingdom
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We begin with some of the earliest and most evocative monuments in British history, all set in the beautiful rolling countryside around Avebury. We enter this unrivaled Neolithic landscape at West Kennet long barrow, which looks out from its prominent ridge from behind a great veil of massive sarsen stones. One of the largest and best-preserved of these enormous tombs, it stands at the beginning of building in England, and the dark chambers within provided the last resting place for scores of the first generations of people to set roots down here. It overlooks our next, improbable, destination, the extraordinary Silbury Hill, a vast man-made eminence, as old as the pyramids. We follow this with a goosebump-inducing walk to the stone circle along the megalith-lined Avenue, and take in the vast Avebury circle itself, the core of which may be nearly six thousand years old, a very different monument to Stonehenge, but with the same power to awe and its rival in magnificence.

After lunch nearby at a historic pub, we round off a busy day with a visit to the Keiller Museum to encounter Avebury’s long-gone makers, before exploring the house and gardens of the attractive Tudor and Georgian Avebury Manor, home to Avebury’s famed excavator.

Day 3:
Salisbury, England, United Kingdom
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We drive to Old Sarum, a site with a very long history. An Iron Age fort, into which the Normans set a castle and richly-decorated Cathedral, both are intimately connected with the tumultuous rise and fall of the ambitious Bishop Roger in the Twelfth Century, one of the leading men in England, who was dramatically arrested when at the height of his power. After demolition, the Cathedral was moved to Salisbury, visible in the distance. Old Sarum itself declined, and became one of the infamous Rotten Boroughs, with William Pitt long its MP. A short journey takes us to this pretty town, and its excellent museum where we’ll see some of the finest remains from the age of Stonehenge. After lunch nearby, we pick up the story we left at Old Sarum and visit the exquisite and fragile beauty of Salisbury Cathedral. Here we see Magna Carta, one of the most celebrated documents in English history, and a founding influence on the American colonies and Constitution. Only four copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta have survived the ravages of time and Salisbury Cathedral is home to the best preserved.

Leaving Salisbury, we make the short journey to Stonehenge’s new Visitor Centre, whose modern displays and reconstructions will leave us well-prepared and eager for the special evening ahead. Our meal in a historic manor house close by reminds us of the long history here. We then return for a very special encounter with its beginnings that will not leave you: sunset at Stonehenge. We will stand within the stone circle, at its heart, within the barriers. We’ll see the ever-changing light play on the surface of the stones up close as the sun westers away and its last glow flashes between the trilithons towering over us: a transformative way to enfold yourself in Stonehenge’s true scale and impact.

Day 4:
Cotswolds, England, United Kingdom
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A relaxed start to the day sees us journey into the Cotswolds – one of England’s ‘Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ – to Cirencester’s acclaimed Corinium Museum, where we see the transformation of the land from the Iron Age through the centuries of Roman occupation. In brilliant modern displays, we’ll find some of the finest Roman mosaics in Britain, and fascinating remains that tell of the daily life of ordinary Romano-Britons at the end of prehistory through to the Dark Ages and the coming of the English. Lunch in a countryside inn follows before a short journey through a verdant and undulating landscape to the defining type of Roman site, the villa at Chedworth. One of the largest in Britain, enfolding courtyards and a water-shrine within three wings of mosaics and baths, this spacious and opulent home in isolated and beautiful surroundings perfectly expressed the Roman idea of refined leisure.

We return to Bath and a sublime evening tour of the remarkable Roman structure that gives it its name, a Celtic sacred spring with naturally warm and sulphurous gushing waters turned into a vast Roman religious complex. We visit the fine modern museum with its extraordinary array of remains, including thanksgiving altars offered by those saved by the goddess’ power, the famous ‘gorgon’ image, the exquisite bronze head of Sulis Minerva and the lead tablets that sought divine aid for those writing them – and punishment for transgressors. Then we view the miraculous spring itself, its heated and sulphurous flow still inspiring awe today. Finally, we visit the celebrated icon of the King’s Bath, opened to the heavens in Mediaeval times, the steam now rises skyward from the warm waters amid flickering evening torchlight.

Day 5:
Berkeley Castle, England, United Kingdom
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Today, we visit two large sites which reveal the changing fortunes, lives and taste of the aristocracy from the marcher lords of the mediaeval period through the tempestuous era of the Civil War to the gentility of Georgian Britain and beyond. In the morning, we drive to Berkeley Castle, where the mighty walls of a vast and powerful mediaeval fortress rise steeply from the green surroundings of the Berkeley Vale. The forbidding walls and towers of this great castle mutely testify that this was once frontier country, and that its lords were among the greatest powers in the land, later prominent in the colonial history of Virginia and the East India Company. The great windows show that it has been triumphantly transformed into a stately home. Its thick walls now house tastefully-decorated halls hung with tapestries, fine rooms bedecked with paintings and the great kitchens to service a fine aristocratic home. Outside, the delightful terraces of the pretty gardens designed by Gertrude Jekyll descend artfully and accentuate the castle’s loftiness.

After lunch, we visit the picturesque jewel of Sudeley Castle, a huge fortified manor house, which ended up with a warlike role in unexpected circumstances. Sudeley suffered two sieges during the Civil War, one a particularly fierce and vicious fight – through its owner’s prominent loyalty to his king. Through story and fame of its owners, Sudeley constantly intertwines with the great events of English history: Richard III built a great and now aesthetically ruined banqueting hall that just begs to be the subject of a painting; Henry VIII was here, and Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey. Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr came to Sudeley with her new husband, the ambitious, lascivious and lecherous Thomas Seymour, for the last hopeful and tragic part of her life. Uniquely for a queen, she is buried in the lovely church that is part of the house. Ruined then rescued, a series of remarkable and spirited nineteenth century owners have given us a fantastically beautiful house, honey-colored stone bathed by the deep greens of its wonderful gardens and a riot of roses in a sublime tree-clad landscape.

Day 6:
Bath, England, United Kingdom
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In the morning, we drive to the famed site of Glastonbury Abbey, whose picturesque ruins are surrounded with a haze of mediaeval legends connecting it to Joseph of Arimathea, the Holy Grail and King Arthur, Camelot and The Knights of the Round Table. The real history of the site is no less interesting, encompassing the dark age transition from Celtic to English dominance, brutal Norman abbots, royal connections and a savage suppression by Henry VIII – and a parade of eccentric rediscoveries. This wonderfully atmospheric site leaves us plenty to talk about over lunch before we return to Bath.

We complete the day with a tour of this magnificent World Heritage Site which brings some of our earlier experiences together in some of the most perfect vistas Britain boasts. The healing waters brought the town and its springs a second period of fame, the Georgian and Regency Bath of Jane Austen, when it became a fashionable draw for refined society. We follow in her footsteps through the ordered and mathematically-perfect yet delightful streets which bring us up to the serene beauty of the Royal Crescent and its sublime views over the city and its surroundings, before a final meal nearby. A memorable way to end a delightful encounter with England’s riches.

Day 7:
Bath, England, United Kingdom
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Departures

Other Locations Visited:
Wessex, England, United Kingdom
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Other Locations Visited:
Avebury, England, United Kingdom
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Other Locations Visited:
Silbury Hill, England, United Kingdom
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WHAT'S INCLUDED

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  • We use luxurious 4-5* small hotels with character
  • Airport transfer on first and last day of tour
  • Minibus travel
  • Entrance fees and tips
  • Excursions with expert guides
  • All breakfasts, 3 lunches and 4 dinners

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