Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Commercial Break: The RelayRides Hallowe'en Road Trip

A recent flurry of publicity has come to this blog! All right, you have to define "flurry" as "two non-family/non-friend people reading the blog and finding something they like, though only one is paying for it" but still! Notoriety! Fame! A potential uptick in visitors that will lead to no immediate financial gain that I can foresee but is still pretty cool anyway! A good excuse to use more exclamation points!

First it was someone from the Ontario Science Centre asking for permission to use a photograph I took of fossilized giant sea snails in a cave in France, and this week it's a representative from RelayRides, the vehicular equivalent of Airbnb. I've been invited to write a post for them to link to, talking about my dream US-based vacation. My life is in many ways a permanent vacation, and I'm not going to be in the United States for Hallowe'en, but I've decided to take an imaginary road trip up the East Coast between now and the end of the month, checking out spooky and interesting places on the way - and eating cheese as well, of course. Since this is an imaginary road trip, I won't have to worry about my lactose intolerance, will I?

Opening narration for the RelayRides Hallowe'en Road Trip starts now ... and ACTION!

RelayRides is a carsharing service, but instead of sharing a car with someone else on a trip, you're sharing the use of someone else's car. In other words, you're renting a car from a private individual, brokered by the team at RelayRides. The company insures the car for the period of the rental so that the owner is covered, but the renter needs to pay for their own insurance coverage while they're renting the car (or decline coverage and take their chances), which adds between 15%-40% to the rental price. However, it's still cheaper than the average rent-a-car company, especially for the car that I've chosen to rent, a bright red Ford Mustang convertible belonging to someone named Andris - perfect for leaf-viewing, which on this imaginary road trip is peaking right about now.

To start the trip, I've flown from Heathrow to JFK and taken the AirTrain shuttle to Newark International, where the car is located; the company currently doesn't have cars at JFK, though they do have rental locations at many other US airports, to help people rent out their cars while they're on vacation themselves. The company even pays for the parking at San Francisco International, and hooks up local travelers with the people leaving their cars at the airport, which lets car owners continue to earn money even while they're on vacation, and that's pretty cool, too. Andris meets me at the airport, shows me the basics of the car, and hands over the keys. After reminding myself that I need to drive on the right side of the road (even in imaginary road trips, safety is important!), I set off up I-95 to my first destination: Fall River, Massachusetts.

Day 1: 210 miles, estimated time 3.5 hours, but let's be real here and say 5 hours. I'm not going to get any spooky sightseeing done today, but driving on the New Jersey Turnpike is scary enough.

I'm going to spend the night at the Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast Museum. Besides notorious axe murderers, Fall River is known for its Portuguese community and cuisine. Since my imaginary road trip includes an imaginary unlimited budget, I'm going to go to dinner at Estoril and eat bacalhau é chouriço.

A picture of the axe possibly used to kill Andrew and Abby Borden, if the parties involved had been 9th-century Vikings. Photo taken November 2012 at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway.

Having survived the night without being attacked by axe-wielding women, I've enjoyed a delicious breakfast and some strong coffee, packed my bags and loaded them into the convertible, and headed out to the next destination: Hollis, New Hampshire.

Day 2, morning: 97 miles, approximately 2 hours travel time.

About a hundred miles to the north-northwest, I arrive at Pine Hills Cemetery. Its nickname is "Blood Cemetery" because it's believed to be haunted by the ghost of Abel Blood, who was buried there (or was he? bwah ha haaaa) back in 1867 in what was already a century-old graveyard. Since it's barely 10am and the sun is shining, I'm not bothered by any spectral taps on the shoulder, and I've always enjoyed walking around looking at grave markers. If I planned to be buried, I'd be thinking about what should go on my headstone. Hmm ... my motto of "Onward to the next adventure!" would actually work quite well, come to think of it.

Old grave markers outside of St. Cuthbert's House of Prayer in York, England, October 2014

Just 10 miles away they're making goat cheese at Butternut Farm, in Milford, New Hampshire. Since I'm on a road trip, I can't stay and make cheese with this family, but it's going on my list of places to check out when I get back to the United States; it looks like they use and appreciate apprentices, and since they've only recently started making fresh goat cheese, they might be interested in some of the recipes I've brought with me from France. Today, though, I'll just pick up supplies for a picnic lunch: some fresh goat cheese, the last of the summer tomatoes, and a bit of lettuce. I'll make a sandwich with the gluten-free baguette that has magically appeared on the seat next to me, and set out for my next spooky stop: Kennebunkport, Maine.

Not Silas Perkins. Chinon, France, August 2013.

Day 2, afternoon: 95 miles or so, and another 2 hours on the road.

I've booked a room at the Kennebunk Inn, which is haunted by the ghost of a former employee, Silas Perkins, who occasionally makes his presence known by levitating wine glasses. The hotel started out as a private residence, built in 1799, but has been a hotel since 1928, and it has recently been in the news for its chefs and its food. Chef Shanna O'Hea has just won the Food Network's "Rewrapped" cooking show/contest with her interpretation of Chef Boyardee Ravioli as an ingredient, preparing and serving Spice Cake with Cashew Ginger Crumble and Raspberry Tomato Meat Sauce Coulis, which probably would sound better in French.

Her gâteau aux épices avec crumble noix de cajou/gingembre et son coulis framboise/sauce tomate-viande impressed the judges earlier this month, and although I don't think that's going to become the inn's signature dessert, they've also got a popular Maine Lobster Potpie that has been praised in local and national publications. I like lobster, but am not a big potpie fan, and since the inn's restaurant Academe has been nice enough to create a special "gluten-identified" version of their dinner menu, I'll check that out. Let's see ... I think I'll start with the steamed Prince Edward Island mussels, and then have the honey and almond grilled salmon.

                         Good night, Silas.

Day 3, morning: 75 miles, 1.5 hours. Photo of Tillamook Rock Light house taken December 31, 2010.

Another beautiful day dawns as I leave Kennebunkport the next morning, and I've put the top of the convertible down to enjoy the fresh breeze off the ocean. I'm going up the coast of Maine to my next haunted spot: the Seguin Island lighthouse.

George Washington commissioned a wooden lighthouse here in 1795, but a storm blew it down and a new one had to be built - of granite this time - in 1819. The current lighthouse, still in operation, was built in 1857. It's on an island off the coast about three miles, and the only way to get there is by boat or helicopter, but I'm enjoying my RelayRides red convertible, so I'll just go sit on the beach for a while, eating the gluten-free treats I bought from Wildflours Bakery. They don't have a retail space in Brunswick, Maine, but they do sell at markets and pop-up locations in the area, and imaginary road trips are perfect ways to be in exactly the right place at the right time to meet up with mobile businesses like this one. I'm enjoying their pumpkin whoopie pies, since I don't have to worry about dairy issues, and it's wonderfully seasonal as a midmorning snack.

Lighthouse keeping is a lonely job, but in this case having a spouse didn't help. According to legend, one 19th-century lighthouse keeper bought a piano for his wife so that she wouldn't get bored out there on the island, cut off from the mainland all winter. Unfortunately, she only had one piece of sheet music. And so that's what she played, over and over and over, day after day after day, until the lighthouse keeper snapped and chopped the piano into bits with an axe, after which he chopped his wife into bits, and then himself. Well, okay, that last bit is my own embellishment; the stories only say that he killed himself, but not how. To this day, people swear they hear the faint sounds of the piano, drifting over the lonely waves ...

Okay then! On that romantic note, I'll dust the last sweet crumbs off of my hands and get back into the car, because I'm headed for the home of the king of horror himself, Stephen King, and it's time to finish this road trip at my final destination: Bangor, Maine.

Day 3, afternoon: 111 miles, 2.5 hours. Pig blood photograph taken at Saint-Pée d'Oloron, France, September 2013.

King's 1974 novel "Carrie" freaked out even more people when it was made into a film in 1976. It certainly freaked me out when I saw it. Stephen King has lived in Bangor, Maine for decades, and I've already gone by his house, which is surrounded by a wonderfully creepy wrought-iron fence with dragons as finials. My father, who also lives in Bangor now, used to have coffee regularly with King, though I've never met him. When I was living in Alaska, my then boyfriend got me into King's novels, and I gave myself the collywobbles reading "Cujo" and "It" and "Pet Sematary." Several years earlier, when I was a freshman at St. Olaf College in Northfield, I watched "The Shining" with two friends, and it scared me so much - especially after we walked out of the movie theatre into the falling snow that made the campus look exactly like the final scene in the movie, to my fevered imagination - that I made them sleep on couches with me in the common room of their dorm, because I was too scared to go back to my own dormitory and open the door to who knew what!

I still get a little nervous, just thinking about that movie.

Me and my rental car and my dying camera, Cannon Beach, Oregon, May 2010.

Day 4 is cold and clear, and the bright orange red yellow leaves are beautiful against the blue sky. It's October 31st and I'm at the end of my imaginary rental car road trip adventure. I could do the drive back to Newark International in one long day (12 hours, 515 miles) and in fact I am required to take the car back to where I picked it up, which is the only disadvantage I can see to the RelayRides service - though again, it's not uncommon to have that requirement in regular rent-a-car services either, whether daily or hourly. There's also a mileage limit, which I have gone over for this particular rental, and I expect that will be extra on the bill, which is also normal for the industry.

But this is my imaginary road trip, and while I've enjoyed the red convertible, I'll now have to let Andris figure out how to get it back from Bangor, which is probably his worst nightmare come true - and therefore very appropriate for a Hallowe'en road trip. Sorry, Andris - I'm off to have coffee with Stephen King.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Note to the RelayRides team - I wouldn't *really* abandon a rental car. I'm very responsible. Really.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Market Day In Salisbury

Tuesdays and Saturdays are market days in Salisbury. The markets are held in Market Place (logically enough), not far from the Highgate exit from the cathedral close, and they have been selling goods in that open space for well over 750 years. The narrow streets called Ox Row, Butcher Row, and Fish Row show where vendors grouped themselves; the stone canopy of the Poultry Cross still marks the traditional location for sellers of hens and capons and eggs (though the vendors ignore tradition, these days). Cheese Cross has disappeared under newer buildings, leaving only a commemorative plaque behind, but you can still walk along Oatmeal Row and its 16th-century houses and shops.

It's not just food and produce vendors in the market, but I wasn't looking for shoes or yarn or area rugs or pet supplies. I wasn't really looking for anything in particular, but I enjoyed the looking anyway. There were fewer stalls offering fresh produce than I had expected, and more baked goods. A few local butchers offered pork and chicken and wild game, and when I went back for the bigger farmer's market during the Food & Drink Festival, there were foraged wild mushrooms for sale, as well as three times as many vendors selling prepared foods: Thai, Mexican, and several "American" booths selling BBQ pulled pork and hamburgers.

I caught the tail end of Wet Picnic's performance of their "Time for Tea" piece, which involved a young man dancing around with a rubber udder strapped to his front. And now I wonder what sort of spike in visitors this blog will experience due to the search term "rubber udder" ...

And speaking of dairy, of course I stopped at the cheese stalls, particularly those that sold goat cheese. No one seemed too interested in hiring me, but I had a nice chat with the owner of Loosehanger Farmhouse Cheeses (cow and goat milk from outside dairies, made at a facility 9 miles southwest of Salisbury) and the owner of Nut Knowle Farm (who raise their own goats and make cheese about 100 miles away, southeast of London). I tasted the Loosehanger cheese flavored with wild garlic, Allium ursinum (bear's garlic in the UK, l'ail des ours in France). Although there are masses of wild garlic every spring in SW England, Loosehanger use dried garlic from eastern Europe; Ukraine, I think he told me from underneath his Wisconsin Cheeseheads orange wedge hat. I didn't taste any of the goat cheeses from Nut Knowle Farm but I'd like to talk with them more, since they're making a nice wide range of cheese. There were a lot of customers at this stand, so I didn't want to take up too much of his time. The next time I come over to the UK, it will be to make cheese. Somewhere on this island there is, or will be, one or more goat dairies with cheese producers who want to employ me, and I will find them - or we will find each other - when the time is right.

Plans, like the best cheese, need time to mature.

Sunday, October 26, 2014


Thirty-five years ago, the visitor's center at Stonehenge was right next to the stone circle, but they've torn that down and built a new one a mile and a half away, which just opened up at the end of 2013. The stones are hidden by a wooded area, so you can't see them from the parking lot - but on the other hand, you can't see the parking lot from the stones now, either. If you don't look beyond the grassy knoll of the monument to the zooming trucks on the A303 less than a quarter of a mile away, it's easy enough to forget it's there and fall under the spell of the standing stones. The path around the circle is only around 500 feet long, but it took me over an hour to walk it, because I kept stopping to take yet another picture as the angles and shadows changed, or just to stand and stare, wondering about who, and why, and how many other feet had traced the same circuit over the past five thousand years.

I walked back to the center down the long flat stretch of green that bisects the wooded area, the Stonehenge Cursus. This site has recently been dated to at least 500 years earlier than the earliest evidence of a circle at Stonehenge itself, and is also aligned east-west with the sun at the summer solstice. The flat grassy plain covers the straight ditches that run nearly two miles underneath, where they have found pieces of the deer-antler picks used to excavate them.

Though the new visitor's center is said to have an interesting collection of artifacts, after my solitary walk back I didn't want to fight the crowds to get in and see them. My head was too full of images to add any more then, and even now I have no words to express those images, no way to explain why this is such an amazing place. Other writers will have to complete this post for me, as I look at the pictures and lose myself in the centuries again.

Another source of greatness is Difficulty. When any work seems to have required immense force and labor to effect it, the idea is grand. Stonehenge, neither for disposition nor ornament, has anything admirable; but those huge rude masses of stone, set on end, and piled each on other, turn the mind on the immense force necessary for such a work.

Nay, the rudeness of the work increases this cause of grandeur, as it excludes the idea of art and contrivance; for dexterity produces another sort of effect, which is different enough from this.
          - Edmund Burke, "On the Sublime and Beautiful" (1756)

I have had twenty times a strong inclination to spend a summer near Salisbury downs, having rid over them more than once, and with a young parson of Salisbury reckoned twice the stones of Stonehenge, which are either ninety-two or ninety-three.
          - a letter from Jonathan Swift to John Gay (1730)
'The People of the Hills have all left. I saw them come into Old England and I saw them go. Giants, trolls, kelpies, brownies, goblins, imps; wood, tree, mound, and water spirits; heath-people, hill-watchers, treasure-guards, good people, little people, pishogues, leprechauns, night-riders, pixies, nixies, gnomes, and the rest - gone, all gone! I came into England with Oak, Ash and Thorn, and when Oak, Ash and Thorn are gone I shall go too.'

Dan looked round the meadow - at Una's Oak by the lower gate; at the line of ash trees that overhang Otter Pool where the mill-stream spills over when the Mill does not need it, and at the gnarled old white-thorn where Three Cows scratched their necks. 'It's all right,' he said; and added, 'I'm planting a lot of acorns this autumn too.'

'Then aren't you most awfully old?' said Una.

'Not old - fairly long-lived, as folk say hereabouts. Let me see - my friends used to set my dish of cream for me o' nights when Stonehenge was new. Yes, before the Flint Men made the Dewpond under Chanctonbury Ring.'

- Rudyard Kipling, "Puck of Pook's Hill" (1906)
After dinner, we walked to Salisbury Plain. On the broad downs, under the gray sky, not a house was visible, nothing but Stonehenge, which looked like a group of brown dwarfs in the wide expanse — Stonehenge and the barrows — which rose like green bosses about the plain, and a few hayricks. On the top of a mountain, the old temple would not be more impressive. Far and wide a few shepherds with their flocks sprinkled the plain, and a bagman drove along the road ... It was pleasant to see, that, just this simplest of all simple structures — two upright stones and a lintel laid across — had long outstood all later churches, and all history, and were like what is most permanent on the face of the planet: these, and the barrows — mere mounds (of which there are a hundred and sixty within a circle of three miles about Stonehenge) like the same mound on the plain of Troy, which still makes good to the passing mariner on Hellespont, the vaunt of Homer and the fame of Achilles. Within the enclosure, grow buttercups, nettles, and, all around, wild thyme, daisy, meadowsweet, goldenrod, thistle, and the carpeting grass ... We walked in and out, and took again and again a fresh look at the uncanny stones. The old sphinx put our petty differences of nationality out of sight. To these conscious stones we two pilgrims were alike known and near.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "English Traits" (1856)
Though the sky was dense with cloud, a diffused light from some fragment of a moon had hitherto helped them a little. But the moon had now sunk, the clouds seemed to settle almost on their heads, and the night grew as dark as a cave. However, they found their way along, keeping as much on the turf as possible that their tread might not resound, which it was easy to do, there being no hedge or fence of any kind. All around was open loneliness and black solitude, over which a stiff breeze blew.

"What monstrous place is this?" said Angel.

"It hums," said she. "Hearken!"

He listened. The wind, playing upon the edifice, produced a booming tune, like the note of some gigantic one-stringed harp. No other sound came from it, and lifting his hand and advancing a step or two, Clare felt the vertical surface of the structure. It seemed to be of solid stone, without joint or moulding. Carrying his fingers onward he found that what he had come in contact with was a colossal rectangular pillar; by stretching out his left hand he could feel a similar one adjoining. At an indefinite height overhead something made the black sky blacker, which had the semblance of a vast architrave uniting the pillars horizontally.
They carefully entered beneath and between; the surfaces echoed their soft rustle; but they seemed to be still out of doors. The place was roofless. Tess drew her breath fearfully, and Angel, perplexed, said —

"What can it be?"

Feeling sideways they encountered another tower-like pillar, square and uncompromising as the first; beyond it another and another. The place was all doors and pillars, some connected above by continuous architraves.

"A very Temple of the Winds," he said.

The next pillar was isolated; others composed a trilithon; others were prostrate, their flanks forming a causeway wide enough for a carriage; and it was soon obvious that they made up a forest of monoliths grouped upon the grassy expanse of the plain. The couple advanced further into this pavilion of the night till they stood in its midst.

"It is Stonehenge!" said Clare.

- Thomas Hardy, "Tess of the d'Urbervilles" (1891)
I set out immediately, with my Son for London, and we only stopped a little by the Way to view Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain, and Lord Pembroke’s House and Gardens, with his very curious Antiquities at Wilton. We arriv’d in London the 27th of July 1757.

- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)

I have no objection to go to see ruins, aqueducts, pictures, in company with a friend or a party, but rather the contrary, for the former reason reversed. They are intelligible matters, and will bear talking about. The sentiment here is not tacit, but communicable and overt. Salisbury Plain is barren of criticism, but Stonehenge will bear a discussion antiquarian, picturesque, and philosophical.

In setting out on a party of pleasure, the first consideration always is where we shall go to: in taking a solitary ramble, the question is what we shall meet with by the way. 'The mind is its own place'; nor are we anxious to arrive at the end of our journey. I can myself do the honours indifferently well to works of art and curiosity.

- William Hazlitt, "Table Talk" (1821)
At Purbright, and many parts of the surrounding country, loose blocks of a stone is found similar to what has been called the grey weathers This stone, composed of siliceous particles cemented together without any intervening substance, may be considered as a granular quartz. It has more the appearance of an original formation, or peculiar crystallization of siliceous matter analogous to that of sugar, than to a substance composed of the detritus of other rocks. Numerous large and loose masses of this rock lie scattered over the surface of the chalk country, particularly in Berkshire and Wiltshire, but a bed or continuous stratum of it has not yet been observed. These stones were much employed by our ancestors in building, and before the ground was cleared for the purposes of agriculture they were much more numerous than at present. The huge erections of Stonehenge, which have so much exercised the conjectures of our antiquaries, are chiefly composed of it, and the blocks were no doubt found on the spot. It is not a little singular that some of the smaller upright stones of Stonehenge consist of a sort of greenstone, and must therefore have been brought from very great distance, no such rock occurring in the neighbourhood.

- Transactions of the Geological Society: 1st series,
    "On the Strata lying over the Chalk" (1814)
The old man with a hammer and the one-eyed man with a spear were seated by the roadside talking as I came up the hill. "It isn't as though they hadn't asked us," the one with the hammer said. "After all these years," said the one-eyed man with the spear. "After all these years. We might go back just once." "O' course we might," said the other.

When they saw me the one with the hammer touched his greasy cap. "Might we make so bold, sir," he said, "as to ask the way to Stonehenge?" I was bicycling there myself to see the place so I pointed out the way and rode on at once, for there was something so utterly servile about them both that I did not care for their company. They seemed by their wretched mien to have been persecuted or utterly neglected for many years, I thought that very likely they had done long terms of penal servitude.

When I came to Stonehenge I saw a group of about a score of men standing among the stones. It was three miles back where I left those strange old men, but I had not been in the stone circle long when they appeared, coming with great strides along the road. When they saw them all the people took off their hats and acted very strangely, and I saw that they had a goat which they led up then to the old altar stone.
And the two old men came up with their hammer and spear and began apologizing plaintively for the liberty they had taken in coming back to that place, and all the people knelt on the grass before them. And then still kneeling they killed the goat by the altar, and when the two old men saw this they came up with many excuses and eagerly sniffed the blood. And at first this made them happy. But soon the one with the spear began to whimper. "It used to be men," he lamented. "It used to be men." And the twenty men began looking uneasily at each other, and the plaint of the one-eyed man went on in that tearful voice, and all of a sudden they all looked at me.

I do not know who the two old men were or what any of them were doing, but there are moments when it is clearly time to go, and I left them there and then. And just as I got up on to my bicycle I heard the plaintive voice of the one with the hammer apologizing for the liberty he had taken in coming back to Stonehenge. "But after all these years," I heard him crying, "After all these years..."

And the one with the spear said: "Yes, after three thousand years..."

- Lord Dunsany, "The Return of the Exiles" (1915)

Friday, October 24, 2014

Salisbury Architecture 1231 - 1981

Cathedrals require a large supporting population of clergy, cleaners, and choristers. Like many English cathedrals, Salisbury Cathedral is surrounded by a close, or enclosure, of walls and houses where bishops and clerics have lived since the cathedral was constructed back in the 13th century. The Bishop of Salisbury still lives there, although he doesn't live in the Bishop's Palace these days, but most of the homes are now rented out to more secular residents. A school of theology has been teaching scripture there since the Middle Ages.

Arched stone gates cut through the walls and connected the sacred inner sanctum to the profanity of costermongers and fishwives on the cobblestone streets leading to the central marketplace. The original gates are still there: High Gate (or North Gate) towards the market square, Queen's Gate and Harnham Gate to the west and south where the River Avon curves around the close, and St. Anne's Gate in the northeast corner, leading to the even older church of St. Martin's parish.

St. Anne's Gate dates back to 1331, and has a small chapel built in above it where Handel gave his first performances in England, according to some reports; others say the concerts were held in the music room at Malmesbury House, built around 1430 and connected to the west side of the gate. Malmesbury House was recently put up for sale - at only 5 million pounds it's a bargain, though the upkeep would be fairly expensive. A 16th-century brick gatehouse huddles in the shadow of the larger mansion, and on the other side an 18th-century Regency townhouse looks down its dormered nose at the passers-by.

St. Anne is the patron saint (or "patroness") of women in labor, miners, cabinet-makers, sailors, mothers, equestrians, childless women, lace-makers, and/or dealers in old clothes. You can celebrate any or all of these on July 26th each year.

Little bits of historical architecture sprout up all over Salisbury, such as the clock tower at the end of one of the bridges over the Avon, in the center of town on Fisherton Street. This was completed in 1893 with funds provided by one Dr. John Roberts, who had come to practice at the nearby Salisbury Infirmary (1767-1993); it's a memorial to his wife Arabella, who died in January 1892.

Just within the eastern edge of the ring road, in the small park called Bourne Hill Gardens, the last remnant of the 14th-century earthen ramparts that once surrounded the city is now a decorative element over the pathway under the trees. The grounds once belonged to St. Edmund's College, established in 1269. The college was converted into a residence called Wyndham House in 1660, which became Bourne House when it was sold again in 1873, and the city now owns the land and house, using the latter for office space.

The River Avon loops through Salisbury on its way to Christchurch Bay, joined by the River Nadder just south of the city. This isn't the Stratford-upon Avon, which is in Warwickshire to the north, although there is a small village at the north edge of the city called Stratford-sub-Castle, which is on the banks of the Avon. It's a bit confusing.

Away from the older structures in the center of town, more modern brick buildings make up most of the architectural landscape of Salisbury. The mix of clay, sand, and gravel that makes up much of the region led to the establishment and tradition of brick-making in the 14th century (if not earlier) in this region, with several brick and tile works providing jobs in the 18th and 19th century. The manor and village at Downton, about 6 miles south of Salisbury along the Avon, have been rebuilt and maintained with local brick. It's not the Downton of Downton Abbey, although the real-life Highclere Castle is less than 50 miles away to the northeast. There is, however, a yearly Cuckoo Fair.

This week in Salisbury they held their Charter Fair, which has been a yearly event since 1227, when Henry III granted the Bishop of Salisbury the right to hold a fair on the third Monday of every October. Since the history of the region goes back to Roman times and before, there have undoubtedly been fairs held for millennia in the area.

Salisbury escaped the destruction of the bombing raids that devastated London in World War II because the German airplane pilots were told to use the cathedral's steeple as a position marker, rather than blasting it off the landscape. What they were aiming for, among other things, was the Spitfire factory in Woolston, about 50 miles away on coast to the southeast. By the time the Germans destroyed the factory, most of the manufacturing and equipment had been moved to satellite locations, including Salisbury. For several years during the war, many of the wing-mounted fuel tanks for these fighter planes were built in the bus station there.

To the north, between Salisbury and the town of Wilton, it was once all farmland. In the 17th century, the fifteen hundred acres of Fugglestone Farm included both the water-meadows along the Avon and Nadder rivers as well as the higher chalk hills. By the end of World War I the farm had been purchased by the British Army and most of the outbuildings converted into barracks. In World War II the main farmhouse was the army headquarters for the southern region, and today most of the former farmland is a series of council housing and suburbs. The 1980s row house where I was housesitting is towards the top of one of the chalk hills, with a nice view of Old Sarum to the east and Salisbury to the south. I spent a quiet three weeks there, taking care of two skittish cats, with the occasional trip into town or out to see the famous landmarks of Old Sarum and Stonehenge, topics of my next two posts.

Another excellence in brick is its perfect air of English respectability. It is utterly impossible for an edifice altogether of brick to look affected or absurd: it may look rude, it may look vulgar, it may look disgusting, in a wrong place; but it cannot look foolish, for it is incapable of pretension.

- John Ruskin, "The Poetry of Architecture" (1838)