Since our train isn’t until noon today, I give the kids the option of sleeping in and leaving at 11am or getting up early and visiting the British Library. The British Library has never been on my list of top ten things to do in London, but hey, it’s just down the street. We can there when it opens and spend about an hour there checking things out before going back to the Mansions, collecting our luggage, and walking the 15 minutes it takes to get to Paddington Station. I’m more than a little surprised when they take me up on the Library excursion and so all bags are packed and ready to go when we leave at 8am.
Who knew a bunch of books and papers could be so exciting? In one room you can find the original Magna Carta and a Gutenberg Bible, sheet music inked by Handel and the lyrics to “Strawberry Fields” handwritten by John Lennon, the wrong words crossed out to make room for the right words. There’s Leonardo DaVinci’s notebooks in his backward mirror writing and the earliest versions of some of the greatest works of English literature, including Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Persuasion by Jane Austen, and Shakespeare’s First Folio. I can feel the presence of every person who created these works here and it’s magical. Wow. Upstairs there is a glass room housing many more valuable books. I love the juxtaposition of the “readers” sitting in front of it studying their laptops.
A quick taxi back to the apartment, and we grab our bags and roll on down to Paddington Station. A couple of months ago, I bought tickets for this train online – now I just have to transform my booking number into actual tickets. We each get two tickets for the one way journey. One to get from the station to the platform through the turnstile, and the other to show onboard. It takes us a bit to figure out which one is which, but we do, and we’re on the train. At the station, I suggest everyone get a bite to eat and a drink for the ride.
I would love to say I enjoyed the English countryside, but I can’t. Instead, I was using my iPhone (glad to have that data) to figure out what to do in Bath in about an hour. I knew there was a free tour, but when? iPhone says 2pm. How far is it from the car rental and when to they close? Gotta take a taxi. Where do we stow our bags? Youth hostel 3 blocks from train station for 3euros/bag. How long to drive to Axbridge where we are staying? About 1 hour. If we have time to eat, where can we eat gluten-free? Jamie Oliver has a restaurant there!
So when we got to Bath, I was set to go. We had about half an hour to drop our bags, find the tour beginning, and grab Anna a gluten-free snack before enjoying a marvelous walking tour through Bath given by the Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides. Here’s a little bit about what we learned: the Romans were here and took advantage of the thermal waters and microclimate in this valley to create a prosperous town. Fast forward to the 900’s and the area is Anglo-Saxon. Kings are crowned in the Abbey and a wall is built. Fast forward to the 1700’s, a queen gets pregnant here, and Bath is rejuvenated by Georgian architects John Wood Sr. and Jr. Now it is the place to be for London society. The architecture reflects the times – the front of the buildings are lined with Bath Stone – a unique limestone found only in this area, but the rear of the buildings are made with the cheapest materials. Only the facades are important. We see the Bath Crescent homes and walk down the garden path from Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Architecturally, at least, very little in this city has changed since Jane was here.
However, Bath is expensive, so we head back to the hostel, grab our bags and taxi out to the National Car Rental (city center – right!) location on the edge of town. This time, we get a small station wagon with a little bit more room. Morgan Navigator fires up the GPS and we’re on our way to Axbridge.
The tiny town of Axbridge is meant to be a respite after busy London and Bath. It has one square, one pub that serves food, one restaurant in a small inn, one grocery store, one pharmacy, one post office, one butcher, one church, and one graveyard. We meet Boss and Janet, the owners of the 18th century 3 bedroom cottage named Chedway (no number, or street address, just Chedway), and they give us instructions, tell us some stories, and leave the key.
We’re starving, so we head over to The Lamb and have a really nice dinner before stopping at the grocery (open til 10pm!) to get some breakfast supplies. Tomorrow we head out to Dartmoor in search of Childe’s Tomb.