From Devon we continued southwest and into Cornwall, famed at this time of year for its warm and sunny weather, and for the beauty of its towns.  We spent time in perhaps the most famous of them, St. Ives.  Situated beside the sea, it has a lovely harbor that wraps around a bay

St Ives, Cornwall, Englandand lots and lots of pubs filled with weekend revelers the day we arrived.

St Ives, Cornwall, England_2Given the blue skies that day, it even had assorted sunbathers on the beach which lines the harbor itself.

St Ives, Cornwall, England_3But as much as it is a holiday destination it is more famous as the residence of a rather renowned artistic community that settled there in the 1920s and ’30s.  Among those who settled here were the painter Ben Nicholson and his then wife Barbara Hepworth, the abstract sculptor Naum Gabo and early on the famous potter Bernard Leach, whose pottery is still in operation up the hill a bit from the oceanfront.  They were, in turn, visited by many other art luminaries and as a community it flourished well into the 1950s with new and younger artists joining and participating.  In response to this the Tate Museum in London created a separate museum here on the hillside and features all of these artists as well as more contemporary artists of merit.

In conjunction, Barbara Hepworth’s home, studio and garden have been turned into a wonderful museum to her works, and when one can see forty sum of her pieces in one place, as is true in her garden, one really understands how she stands perhaps second only to her lifelong friend and rival Henry Moore in terms of abstract sculpture.  Here is one of our favorites, cradling the rainfall of the night before.

DSC04436And this is a look into her studio adjoining the garden as she left it when she died, an unfinished marble in the foreground.

Barbara Hepworth Museum, St Ives, Cornwall, EnglandOur last stop in Cornwall was at the giant Eden Project, built on the site of an abandoned massive open pit clay mine.  It began with a horribly scarred site as most open pit mines of all sorts are.  But it has been transformed into something that is simply unimaginable.  It consists of a series of what are called Biomes, each giant in itself and often described as looking like a James Bond villain’s lair.

Eden Project, Cornwall, EnglandInside are entire natural environments from rainforests to stark desert and everything in between with a feature on what is called the Mediterranean climate.Eden Project, Cornwall, England_3

Eden Project, Cornwall, England_4

But it is the rainforests that overwhelm.

Eden Project, Cornwall, England_2The amount of earthwork necessary to reshape the hole in the ground that was the clay quarry into something that could be built in, the scale of the structures, the amount of steel needed to create the framework for the hexagonal panels, the ability to maintain temperature and humidity in such immense and tall structures is just amazing.  They are the largest greenhouses in the world.

And here is the five thousand year old equivalent we visited just a couple of days later.

Stonehenge Wiltshire, EnglandToday seems like the appropriate day to be writing about Stonehenge since it is the Summer Solstice, June 20th, and the British press reports that they expect 23,000 visitors to Stonehenge today.  It is so familiar to any westerner that there seems little reason to present a lot of photographs, but we wanted to point out a couple of things that impressed us.  Everyone knows the speculation around how they brought such massive stones from such a distance and how they were then stood upright and the lintels somehow placed atop them.  But look closely at what we’ll call the second stone from the left in the photo below and notice the bump, the pimple of rock on its top.

Stonehenge Wiltshire, England_2That’s called a tenon, a term usually applied to woodworking since that is where it is commonly used, in that case a projection of wood which fits into a hole called a mortise cut in the adjoining piece to hold them together when inserted and glued.  What we are seeing here is a tenon, the bump on the top of the stone, which is there to fit into a complementary hole cut into the stone that would sit atop it and connect to the next vertical stone. Pretty amazing for prehistoric workers perhaps 4500 to 5000 years ago, and later used by the Greeks and Romans as well,  The pillars on the buildings at the Roman ruins at Palmyra in the middle of the Syrian desert, for instance, are built of cylindrical stones piled atop each other that have mortises and tenons cut into their ends.

From virtually any angle Stonehenge amazes, even when viewed through the proliferation of stones that make up its several rings.

Stonehenge Wiltshire, England_3We used Salisbury as a base for the exploration of Stonehenge and other sites in the neighborhood called Wiltshire which has more stone circles, processional avenues like the one from the River Avon to Stonehenge, and barrows or ancient burial cites than any other area of England.  And in its own right, Salisbury is a lovely city full of sites, some dating from over a thousand years ago.  The cathedral in particular, caped with the tallest spire in England, is more than just the centerpiece of the city.  It also holds one of only four original copies of the Magna Carta, and its 800 years was being celebrated over last weekend with much pomp and ceremony.  The cathedral itself was built between 1220 and 1258 and its spire added in about 1350 but required much cross bracing, scissor arches and buttresses to keep it straight and support its 6500 tons of weight.

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, England_3Inside it is majestically huge with lovely stained glass windows, a pipe organ containing over a thousand pipes, and a ceiling not only high but covered with paintings as well.  Here is a photo down most of the length of the cathedral with a wonderful baptismal font in the foreground that is always still and reflective of the entire interior.

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, EnglandIn the photo above you will notice that as in many gothic churches and cathedrals, the most sacred part, from where the service is actually conducted, is often dark are reserved and different from the rest of the cathedral where the common people stood (in olden times there were no chairs here).  It was reserved for the nobility and aristocracy and in fact in this cathedral was blocked off from the larger part of the cathedral by a wall.  Today that wall is gone but the wonderfully ornate woodworking and carving is still there.  We were able to enjoy it and sit amidst it for an Evensong service we attended.

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, England_4Here is an exmple of the ornate wood carving that dominates this part of the cathedral.

Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, England_2The cathedral is surrounded by what is called the ‘Close,’ a quiet park surrounded by lovely houses, some dating from as early as the 1200s.  We visited Mompesson House that is famous for its plaster ceilings and wonderful staircase, and was the setting for the 1995 setting of the film ‘Sense and Sensibility.’

Mompesson House, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England_2It was so easy to see the young Kate Winslet or Emma Thompson sitting by the fireplace in the sitting room!

Mompesson House, Salisbury, Wiltshire, EnglandJust a short drive beyond Salisbury and Stonehenge lies another ‘henge’ of considerably larger size.  Inside it is the town of Avebury with the lovely Avebury Manor as well, site of the BBC TV series ‘The Manor Reborn’ where a lovely old manor is refurbished, in this case with original materials and techniques spanning five periods of English interior design.  Here is the dining room, done in Chinese wallpaper hand painted in China as was the original.

Avebury Manor, Wiltshire, EnglandThe manor itself has lovely gardens surrounding it

Avebury Manor, Wiltshire, England_2and abuts the church graveyard, with many of the stones so old and weathered as to be impossible to read.

Avebury Manor, Wiltshire, England_2

But what most distinguishes Avebury is the stone circle mentioned above.

Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, England_2The original circle contained 98 stones, each about 15 to 20 feet high and weighing as much as 20 tons.  Beyond the circle of stones is a ditch as deep as 30 feet deep with an embankment made of the earth from the digging of the ditch which is about 18 feet high.  Many of the stones were broken up and used for construction over the centuries, but one is still able to get a real sense of how huge this ‘hedge’ is by what remains standing and the ditch and encircling the town as well.  The stones themselves are huge, and unlike the case at Stonehenge, you can actually touch and hug them.  And fortunately the Red Lion Pub is just beyond.

Avebury Stone Circle, Wiltshire, EnglandAs is the case with so much of this part of England, the sheep abound, sometimes with a very different kind of companion aboard than what one would expect!

Bike ride, Salisbury to Harnham Wiltshire, England