Today has been awesome; one of those days I fully expect to remember fondly for the rest of my life. It was spontaneous, relaxing, exciting, spiritual... and it all happened underneath a blazing sun.
We’ve just got back to the house, and I found Nathan underneath a pillow, deeply ashamed because he’d gone so red. He hates weird T-shirt tan marks (and all those other First World problems that people with decent physiques worry about.) “I look like a Swan Vesta” he said, revealing a scarlet face which made me laugh out loud.
The day started very early. I woke up, and drove to Heathrow to pick Nathan up from his Westenders Tour of Germany and Holland. It turns out there are few things more relaxing than driving around the North Circular Road in bright early morning sunlight on a Sunday. I had the road to myself and was at the airport in 25 minutes flat.
Poor Nathan was shattered. His tour schedule meant he’d only had two hours’ sleep, and he probably only managed about half an hour more as we drove west along the M4.
Our destination was Avebury; that curious, beautiful, mystical Wiltshire village in the middle of a massive standing stone circle, which is a world heritage site but frankly, ought to be one of the Wonders of the World. It has become by far my favourite place in the UK, and I try to visit it as many times as possible.
We were being met in Avebury by Fiona and Mez, who were driving there from East Sussex, Thelma and Louis- style in Meriel’s incredibly cool open-top car. We met in the blossom-filled churchyard at mid day and pretty speedily hit the pub for lunch.
It was Fiona’s first time in the village, so we took our time walking from stone to stone; trying to tap into whatever it was that spurred those Neolithic people into creating something so astonishingly epic. I don’t know whether we were all talking ourselves into it, but we were genuinely getting some crazy fizzy vibes off some of those stones! We decided it was all to do with magnetism. The rocks definitely have minerals inside them. You can see the streaks of iron ore. Lichen grows in strange shapes all over them, and there are weird patterns of erosion, different on each stone. Fascinating, if not bordering on something more profound.
We walked the full circle of stones before heading back to the churchyard, where we sat on plastic chairs drinking cups of tea and slices of cake provided by the local WI. That, for some reason, was perhaps the most perfect moment of the day; the sun was belting down, and I felt more relaxed than I’ve been in months.
We jumped in Meriel’s cool car, and headed to West Kennet to visit the Stone Age Long Barrow and spent the best part of two hours milling about in the fields, playing Pooh sticks, writing our names in chalk on the fences, and exploring the remains of the tomb, whilst kites and sparrow hawks soared gracefully in the blue sky above us. We were particularly thrilled to observe the progress of a little swallow, who’d obviously built a nest in the barrow itself, and didn’t seem at all bothered by the scores of people coming in and out. She was obviously just keen to get on with the task of feeding her young, and that was that!
We did a lot of jumping!
From West Kennet, we headed north, and stopped off to buy some food from a Tesco in a curious little town called Wroughton. Most of its neighbours - towns like Marlborough - are renowned as the most beautiful, stately, and probably some of the poshest places in the country, yet this little dump was like some of the shit-holes I grew up in on the A6 corridor. The Tesco itself had boarded-over windows, and there were groups of teenaged lads hanging outside with nothing to do. Add a bashed-up, joy-ridden car, and a 1980s ghetto blaster and you’d have a scene from my childhood in Rushden, Northamptonshire. Mez was so freaked out by the place that she went and sat in her car, in case someone decided to wee in it!
From Wroughton, we continued our journey north, crossed the M4 and headed into Oxfordshire to visit the White Horse at Uffingham, which has to be the most spectacular, the most refined, and in many ways, the most surreal of the English prehistoric chalk horses carved into hillsides. No one knows why it’s there. They don’t have a clue. It just sits on the top of the hill, like a majestic cipher, guarding the valley below.
We nearly didn’t make it there at all. Fiona and Nathan, in the car behind, got separated from us, and then promptly lost all phone reception, and then, more worryingly all battery life from both of their phones. They didn’t have a map or GPS in their car, and we only realised we’d lost them when it was too late. Fortunately, lady luck was on our side, and just as the battery life failed on Nathan’s phone, they picked up the first road sign for the White Horse, and all was well.
We had a lovely evening picnic sitting above the horse’s head, taking pictures of us jumping into the sun and chatting to the surprisingly few visitors who seemed to want to visit one of the UK’s greatest locations on one of the busiest days for British tourism!
I’m not complaining. We got the place to ourselves and got to watch as the sinking sun turned everything the most brilliant golden colour, which became a shade of peach, and then amber, and by the time we’d reached the car, the white chalk fields had all turned pink and the trees were glowing like coal in a furnace.
It was the perfect, perfect end to a perfect, perfect day.